Remembering A Quieter Christmas

Dec
14
- by Elizabeth Foss - Leave a Comment

Christmas is different this year. Really different. And yet, it is the same. This year, four days after Christmas, my eldest child will get married. Then, the next day, we will celebrate the high school graduation of my third son, Patrick. The frenetic pace of this season is wearing on me. Yesterday, the bride came over around dinnertime and found me sitting on the floor of the kitchen ordering shoes. And then I pinned a hem. And I think I made a grocery list. All still sitting on the kitchen floor. I was just too tired to move to the table.

As the busyness of these days envelopes us and propels us towards changes, I can’t help but remember quieter Christmases. While my six-foot-tall athlete prepares to leave for the University of Virginia, I remember being mama of a newborn. And I ask Patrick’s new mama to teach his much older mama to just be still and know God.

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From Christmas 1994

Once again it is that very busy time of year. Parents everywhere are caught up in the whirlwind of homemaking and merrymaking. But notthis mom. This year, you'll find me just sitting and cuddling our soft newborn baby, Patrick Gabriel, who was born October 2. Patrick is our third baby and one would think that I wouldn't be amazed by how a baby slows me down.

Housework which we previously finished in under an hour takes the better part of the morning. I don't dare make appointments before 10 in the morning and even then it's tough to arrive on time. Life seems to be moving in the slow motion peculiar to every postpartum. This time, I'm not fighting it. I'm taking my time. I'm determined not to speed things up.

With my first infant, I was anxious for each new milestone of development -- I hurried the baby days away. With the second, I was eager for him to grow and be a playmate for the first. With this baby, I'm embracing the time. Those who know me will attest to the fact that I'm not naturally patient and I like to move quickly. But for now, I'm grateful for the excuse to sit for 20 minutes every two hours and nurse the baby. I don't even miss the hustle and bustle of the season.

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Of course, with Patrick's older brothers completely caught up in the Christmas commotion, I am not totally oblivious to the chaos outside. For some reason, though (hormones?), I'm able to meet their exuberance with relative calm and to delight in their enthusiasm. Having a newborn at Christmas time makes the infant Jesus seem very real to my 2-year-old. And the humble sacrifices of Mary and Joseph seem heroic to my husband and me. What an awesome calling -- to parent the child of God. Isn't that what we are all called to do?

When they are infants, new and sweet, it is so easy to remember that they are the handiwork of the Lord, gifts from heaven. And as Charles Dickens once wrote, "It is not a slight thing when they, who are so fresh from God, love us."

Surely, this will be the best Christmas ever. We have a bright, inquisitive 6-year-old who grasps the meaning of the season nearly as well as an adult but reflects it back through the eyes of a child. We have a lively 2-year-old who is amazed at the sights and sounds and activity but ever grateful for the chance to cuddle quietly with mom and his new baby.

And we have Patrick Gabriel, a brand new breath of heaven.

I'm glad to let the busyness of Christmas time whirl around me as I gaze through the haze created by a new baby. (Some would call it sleep deprivation, but that's not very poetic.) I'm very happy snuggled in my flannels, sipping peppermint tea in the light of the Christmas tree and drinking in the heady sweetness of a new baby.

If you happen to be cradling a baby in your arms as you read this post, I'm glad you're with me. If you are expecting a baby, put your feet up and join us; you certainly deserve the rest. And if your babies have grown all too quickly, take a moment to reminisce. Wherever you are in your parenting, I invite you to look through the eyes of a child and share the peace of an Infant.

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"Entertaining" Angels : A Look at Genuine Hospitality

Nov
16
- by Elizabeth Foss - Leave a Comment
"Entertaining" Angels : A Look at Genuine Hospitality

'Tis the season. It’s upon us. The magazines are screaming. Roll up your sleeves and roll out the red carpet. It’s time to entertain!

May I offer an alternative? Instead of entertaining, offer hospitality. The differences are not subtle. When we entertain, we are often ruled by our pride. When we offer hospitality, we are inspired by charity. Entertaining seeks to impress. Hospitality seeks to minister.

In her excellent book, Open Heart, Open Home, Karen Mains writes:

Secular entertaining is a terrible bondage. Its source is human pride. Demanding perfection, fostering the urge to impress, it is a rigorous taskmaster that enslaves. In contrast, scriptural hospitality is a freedom that liberates.

Entertaining says, “I want to impress you with my beautiful home, my clever decorating, my gourmet cooking.” Hospitality, however, seeks to minister. It says, “This home is not mine. It is truly a gift from my Master. I am his servant, and I use it as he desires.” Hospitality does not try to impress but to serve…Entertaining always puts things before people…Hospitality, however, puts people before things.

Hospitality is a ministry. As such, it is not bound by time or space. To offer hospitality, you do not have to offer an invitation; you do not even have to be at home and you certainly do not need to spend days beforehand cooking and cleaning and decorating. To offer hospitality, you have to open your heart to see and meet a need. Hospitality might be a home-cooked meal wrapped in a pretty towel and carried, still warm, to a neighbor who is going through a difficult time. The charity of an open home extended to a child while his mother has a moment to herself is hospitality extended to all. The comfort of a friend who offers a cup of tea at a well-worn kitchen table on a teary afternoon is hospitality that cannot be captured on the glossy pages of a magazine.

In order to truly extend hospitality we must put away our pride. We must be willing to open our doors, no matter the state of homes or our wardrobes, and to graciously seek to make our visitors feel welcome and at ease. When we do this, we allow people to see us as we are. We put away the pretense and we offer ourselves with all our weaknesses. They can see that we are striving humbly towards holiness and they can see that only God can perfect us. When we offer ourselves to other people and allow them to see our imperfections, we take a chance. We chance that they, too, will accept us in a spirit of charity. Hospitality works best when both the giver and the receiver assume the best about each other.

Entertaining often has a reward attached to it: social stature, a new job or a promotion, an accolade, a return invitation. Hospitality is freely-given, with no thought to reciprocity or reward. The heart that is ordered towards charity offers hospitality to those who most need it, even if those are not the people whose company we most desire. This is charity—a virtue we can model for our children when we ensure that they are hospitable to their friends and even to the child who might otherwise be excluded.

When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your kinsmen or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just. Luke 14:12-14

As we begin to practice the ministry of hospitality, we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. We open our doors and our hearts and certainly some people will come through those doors who don’t view our efforts through the same lens of charity. On occasion we will hear a critical comment; we will be judged according to the world’s standards. We will feel as if we’ve come up short. But we haven’t truly. Those are the times the hospitable hostess will offer to Christ, imperfect and heartfelt, knowing that He will redeem the time and the effort.

This holiday season, make hospitality your prayer. Seek to comfort and to minister. Look for ways to lighten someone else’s load. In every guest, no matter how cranky, no matter how demanding, see Christ. Open your heart wide; risk allowing people to see your weaknesses. For it is in that very weakness that his power is made perfect.

The Beautiful Dance

Sep
12
- by Elizabeth Foss - Leave a Comment
The Beautiful Dance

I stood next to my new sister-in-law and whispered, “Where’s your dad? I’m going to ask him to dance.”

 

“Oh,” came the reply, sure and swift, “he won’t dance. He never dances.”

 

“I think, perhaps, he will.” And I floated off in his direction, feeling every bit the princess in a fairytale. I was The Bride that day, eager to share with everyone around me the supernatural joy bubbling up from my very core. Whatever natural shyness and reserve that would have stopped me from asking on any other day was entirely absent that day. I took the hand of my father-in-law and led him to the dance floor. Happily, and without a moment’s hesitation, he danced. 

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Thus began a love story I never imagined, even in my fondest dreams for happily ever after. My husband’s father, who was 42 when Mike was born, waited a long time to be a father-in-law and then a grandfather. He lives those roles to their very fullest potential. A year from that wedding dance, we did a different dance. I handed him a tiny blue bundle and sat, eyes brimming, while he poured a lifetime of love into his first glance of his first grandson, our Michael. Shortly after that, I quit my job to stay home with my baby. Granddad retired. We both had a sense that we didn’t want to miss this, not a single moment of this, and we were going to live it intentionally, squeeze every little bit out of the gift we’d been given. We were going to dance this dance with every beat of the music.

 

A little over a year from then, I was diagnosed with cancer. My father-in-love and I developed a new cadence. During the months of chemotherapy, he came over to just “hang out.” Truth be told, it sort of annoyed me sometimes. I’m a very independent sort and his presence seemed to shout, “You can’t do this by yourself. I’m here to catch you should you fall.” In hindsight, I couldn’t do it by myself and the hours he spent on the floor playing Legos, or puttering about the house fixing things or taking Michael for grand adventures to feed the ducks were probably as necessary to our survival as a young family as the surgery and the medicine. We had one car in those days and Mike took it to work. His father appeared promptly every morning , buckled Michael into his carseat and drove me to radiation treatments. While I got zapped, he and Michael sat in the car and sung classic children’s songs. Michael was absolutely convinced the outings were just another one of Granddad’s grand adventures.

 

With the next few babies, he still appeared, all the time. He’d push a vacuum or trim a hedge, little jobs that were a big help. And so much more. We were a young family who knew that this great bear of a man would move mountains to see us thrive. On Father’s Day, when Michael was six, we gave him two blue folding chairs, a tribute to his pledge to never miss a soccer game. He had no idea. We had no idea. In all, there would be five boys and four girls in our family. That blue chair would travel far and wide. Granddad would set up camp whenever, wherever, whatever the weather. From tiny fields in our backyard to university stadiums to watch Michael play--the sidelines where Patrick scored the winning goal in the State Cup, the bleachers where Christian was MVP of the state basketball championships, and the fine manicured fields of Patrick’s National Team play. He was there. Always there—dance recitals, doctor’s appointments, play rehearsals. For every baptism, First Communion, and Confirmation. He showed us by his presence that we were his first priority.

 

Someone asked me not long ago what the hardest aspect of middle age is. I quickly answered that for mothers of many, it must be the challenge of meeting the farflung needs of the older ones, while ensuring the little ones have the cozy, careful childhood their siblings did.

 

Today, I have to change that answer. In the past few weeks, Granddad’s health has declined.

 

He’s been in and out of the hospital. The strong man who stood behind my huge van and directed traffic every single time I backed out of a playing field parking lot cannot move from one room to another without a walker. He travels with an oxygen tank. His movements are slow and unsteady. But he stills travels.

 

Last Sunday, a few days out of the hospital, he stepped from our car onto the sidelines where Patrick was playing. Mike helped him to his seat. Oxygen tank beside the blue chair, he watched the game as he always did, 7 or 8 grandchildren on a blanket at his feet. He watched the game. And I watched him, unable to will my eyes away from that beloved face.

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Today is my 25th wedding anniversary. As I observe the slow, careful steps of the frail ashen man I have grown to love so dearly, I cannot help but think of the scripture we heard together, all those many years ago.

And Naomi said to Ruth, "Look, your sister-in-law has returned to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law. But Ruth said, "Do not ask me to leave you, or turn back from following you; for wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people and your God, my God."

Ruth 1:15-16.

I could not have imagined then, in that church, how tightly knit into my heart would be the father of my husband, how much he is my own. He is almost 89 years old now and though we hardly dare to breathe it, I know that this dance, begun on such a sparkling September day a quarter century ago, is soon to be over. As the music fades, I thank God for the great, good gift of knowing and loving the finest father a girl could ever hope to have. I thank Him for the gift of having danced this altogether beautiful dance.

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Getting Beyond My Fear Of Friendship

Jul
11
- by Elizabeth Foss - Leave a Comment
Getting Beyond My Fear Of Friendship

In the wake of that ferocious storm a couple of weeks ago, all phone service was down, but the internet was working. I clicked on Facebook and searched a dear friend's name in order to send her a message about plans for the day. Her name didn't pop up. I clicked on my friends list. Her name wasn't there.

I felt my blood run cold. I mentally ran through every word of the previous conversation we'd had. My pulse quickened and tears sprung to my eyes. "Oh, please, God, not her. And not again. Please, not again." And then I looked to the righthand corner of the screen. My husband was logged into Facebook on my laptop. It wasn't my account. As soon as I switched, there she was. I hadn't been unfriended.

I clang around in this small cell afraid to open my heart and soul to another woman...

Clearly, the wounds that I thought were nearly healed are still pink and raised. I know what it's like to be unfriended, blocked, banished from someone's life. I know what it is like to trust, only to learn that she, too, sins like the rest of us and wounds like the rest of us, too. I know how it stings to be shut out without explanation, both virtually and emotionally, by someone who was once a treasured friend. And I know too well the bondage that comes with the betrayal of a friendship, an imprisonment of my own fear.

I clang around in this small cell afraid to open my heart and soul to another woman the way I did before the loss. I listen to the words of someone else and weigh and measure and wonder if she's sharing truth. I cannot hold her close, cannot truly embrace everything she is because I am afraid. Afraid to my core of being wounded again. Afraid to my core of baring myself and hearing how I am lacking. And so I resolve: no new friends.

I gather a very small handful of time-proven sisters of the heart close to me and I thank God for them every day. I treasure those friendships and I marvel at the miracle of them. When my friend Colleen, who is a missionary in Costa Rica, is home for a rare visit, I seize the opportunity for a heart-to-heart on the phone with a good connection and my words come in a torrent. Then, I am silently grateful as she speaks truth in those familiar honeyed Southern tones. The inexpressible comfort.

The freedom of friendship. A now familiar quote leaps to my mind:

Friendship is the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person! Having neither to weigh thoughts or measure words, but pouring all right out just as they are, chaff and grain together, certain that a faithful friendly hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping and, with a breath of comfort, blow the rest away.

Source

Transient

I know how precious such friends are! In a situation eerily parallel to my own, I watch my daughter struggle with friendships. She is a teenager who has learned that girls can be cruel. This last year has a been one of brutal lessons. I know she's lonely.I wonder about our choices to educate her at home, the eldest girl in the middle of a large family. On island at the end of our dining room table. I ask myself a million questions about girls and friends. Then, I encourage her not to make a cell for herself, even while I reflect on my own prison. I hear the words come out of my mouth and I know they've been forged by fire in my heart.

"Being hurt by other girls can teach us valuable ways to be good friends. The girl who is telling you all those snarky things about this girl and that? She's saying things like that about you to others. Don't be that girl. The girl who latches on to the latest fad just so everyone thinks she's hip? Don't be that girl either. The girl who idolizes you and uses you to increase her social standing? When you falter, she will step on you to hoist herself higher. Yep, girls can be cruel. Watch out for the mean girls. Mostly though, don't be one. Don't be a mean girl. Be a safe girl. Be the girl who blows away the chaff with a breath of comfort. Be a good friend."

Surely we are meant to learn painful lessons about friendship and become better friends, not more miserly women.

It's not a panacea, I know. A girl can be a good friend and get mightily wounded anyway. As I share with her, my own cell still echoes loneliness. Surely, we are not meant to be held prisoner of old wounds. Surely, we are meant to learn painful lessons about friendship and become better friends, not more miserly women. Surely, we are promised freedom in genuine Christian friendship. And we must exercise that freedom to serve others in genuine friendship.

The reality is that loneliness is part of our Christian walk. Sometimes, we seem to walk alone. And it is in that seeking for the perfect friend--the one who always understands and never betrays, the one who is there every time we call and listens to the deepest whispers of our hearts--that we find Jesus.

Sometimes holy women are also lonely women. When we allow ourselves to be lonely, we can seize the chance to evaluate what friendship is intended to be. If friendship feels like something we can't be without, it's not freedom; it's bondage. There is freedom in genuine friendship as God intended--freedom to be what He created us to be. We can find peace in knowing that God is tending our souls even in the times we yearn for human companionship. And we can be blessedly content with a small handful of genuinely authentic friends, quiet in the assurance that God provides human friendships as we need them.

Friendship is a comforting smile, a familiar voice that warms the heart, and the freedom to be the person God intended.

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I look at the sweet, young face of my daughter and I see the good she has to offer friends. My mother's heart wants to protect her from the pain of a wounded spirit. Instead, I gather my own experiences and the wisdom of my friends and resolve to teach her--to give her the tools to make and keep truly good friends and to wait patiently for the best friend of all.

I long to share with her what I've learned myself. He hands us the key we need to unlock the cell of our fear. We walk along with Him, far from the prison of our own making, confident in the freedom that comes with knowing that we can be a good friend, without any expectation of gaining a good friend. We are liberated by the reminder that God is in control of this, too, and that He will send exactly who we need at every stage of life, as long as we are faithful to His truth.

Lead Image via Flickr – fräulein_girot

A Promise to Fear Not

Apr
30
- by Elizabeth Foss - Leave a Comment
A Promise to Fear Not

​​I got sucked in today and for a few minutes there, I thought I might drown. Last night, I promised my three little girls that I would watch a movie with them this afternoon. I knew it was going to be rainy. All five boys were out of the house. I had a new embroidery project I was eager to begin. The girls were all excited about this movie and, well, I never watch movies. So I made a promise. I don't make promises lightly and I don't break promises. And those little girls know it.

They wanted to watch "We Bought a Zoo." Sounded like good light-hearted fun to me. We were maybe three minutes into the movie and a I made a lame excuse and left the room. I was choking back tears...

An Active Love

Mar
27
- by Elizabeth Foss - Leave a Comment
An Active Love

He called around dinnertime, as the noise around me was reaching a hungry crescendo. We talked about his flight, his plans for a dinner meeting, his jampacked schedule the following day. And then he said what he always says, every time he closes a phone call, tinkering only with location, "I'm loving you in Miami."

"I love you, too."​

He never says, "I love you." It's always the active verb, maybe a hyperactive verb, with him. Never just, "I love you." No. He's always actively loving me, no matter where he is. He works because he loves.​

I put dinner on the table. We blessed our food and each other and we ate. Much like always. I'm loving them at the dinner table, ​ I thought to myself. Up to the bathtub, the thought followed me.   I'm loving these little girls as I bubble up their hair, tussle with tangles and braid it tightly before bed. I'm loving them as I pull clean pajamas over their heads, listen to prayers, and snuggle them to sleep.  Help me, God. Help me to remember that with everything I do, I have the opportunity to love them and to love You. Help me to be conscious of actively loving......