How important is taking a moment to listen? Can listening help you reinvent yourself?
One story about these subjects, for me, is told about a worker who lost his tax collecting job. Everything was gone: his income, his years of education, his sense of purpose. He’d been a well-known businessman. Some would say formidable.
The one thing he took away from that career was his pen.
That pen? This guy repurposed it for writing stories that he learned by listening and watching. His work would be published and passed down to generations of readers.
By all accounts, this author did not make money from his stories.
Something of greater value emerged: his legacy.
The stories became powerful influencers for good: affirmations, encouragement, purpose-filled texts to uplift, to sustain.
I’ve always liked this story. It is timeless. Relatable. Unique yet universal. We are all repurposing our gifts, just like this writer dude from ancient times.
It’s amazing, really, this human capacity to listen, adapt, and redirect our energy;
To release what we’d planned on and embrace what is, a busy person will lean down to a little person.
To be grateful we have paychecks and share a bit while others are still waiting for help.
To shift our perspective from Planning as normal to Adapting to what is needed now.
To walk away from everything familiar and step into the Unknown.
Perhaps, in a way, we are plying our pens – writing our own stories for our children to read and re-read. Like the apostle Matthew did.
My next book is also my first children’s story. It’s a picture book about listening. It is also about the sweet lingering ability of dogs and their humans. It has been released on Kindle, and will soon be accompanied by a paperback version and hopefully, the entire hardcover series because I’m reinventing myself.
Some childhood stories stick with you like bright, bobbing buoys in uncharted seas. They serve as vivid markers as we navigate our days. If you would like to know more about how to share your stories with others, or how to listen closely, please contact me or read my new book.
At age twenty, gypsy winds came calling on whiffs of Figgy Pudding and cloves. Christmas was over and done with on my side of the ocean. I was excited to get on with it. I was turning the crank on jack-in-the-box for whatever would pop up and unfold in the new year. In that spirit, I climbed on a plane the morning after Christmas and headed over the waters that separated America from England.
The plan was to stop mid-way to visit Georgina Noakes, who was spending traditional holidays with her family in Yorkshire, England before we both continued on to South Africa where I would sing in a radical multi-racial band and she would teach dance to youth between their high school and college years through story lines and music.
It never occurred to me that I might be running a needle straight through the holidays of my friend. I’d never heard of Boxing Day.
Georgina dutifully gathered me and my bags from the airport, put us into her car and car’s boot, and took me round to her friend’s flat where we shared Christmas pudding with whistles and pointy party hats and a hidden coin. After tea and cake, she carried on to an older couple’s country home where she introduced me and I listened to more stories. When it grew dark, we stopped again at a flat where her best friends gathered to light a live tree with live flames on small wax candles perched on fairy discs tied to the evergreen tines.
Laughter filled the air. Plans were discussed for going out to dance and meet up with other friends at a pub, but before all these after-dinner events occurred, gifts were exchanged in the name of Boxing Day.
“What’s Boxing Day?” I ventured.
That’s when my person was dressed down. I was taught the beguiling concept of regifting your unwanted blessings to friends who may need them more.
At first, it made no sense. Have none of you met together before Christmas and exchanged gifts already?
Oh, no. No, not at all! I was missing the whole point. Besides, Christmas is to be spent with family. There are traditions to adhere to like church or mass and Christmas dinner. Even those at the party who celebrated Hanukkah celebrated Boxing Day. Family members exchange gifts and after they leave, then comes the re-wrapping. Regifting. What a perfect idea. All the baubles began going wonky inside my admittedly exhausted brain. It had been a day and a half already, but I was having a landmark natural high for having learned about Boxing Day.
You see, and here comes my confession, I tend to have a lot of good intentions about shopping for others for Christmas, but when it comes to finally getting my rear end out of the car and paddling through the isles of a retail maze, my own wants are triggered and personal desires gradually climb to the summit of need.
I have to keep looking at my list to remember why I’m there and for whom.
If I am to get a kitchen gadget for my niece at Bed, Bath and Beyond, well, I accidentally also find an excellent waffle maker for our own kitchen. It loads itself into my cart.
If I am getting a flashlight for my nephew, I may find on the same row the socks I’ve been longing for. So, they walk their way into my basket.
If I’ve found a beautiful sweater for my mama or my best friend, it’s only because remembering my list, the guilt, after piling arms high with my delights, makes me throw on an item in the correct size for them.
All of this selfishness is the real reason that the Grinch comes slithering out of the cave at Christmas when all the lights are twinkling, and people’s hearts seem open to possibilities. Maybe that doesn’t make sense to you, but it makes perfect sense to me. See, I hate to shop. Not only does my back hurt after an hour of meandering down the isles, but I always get buyer’s remorse when I buy what I can’t afford and hide it for a day or two inside the car pulling it out of the back seat when no-one’s looking so that I can gaze on it and discover a place for it in my house or in my closet.
That’s when some of these items wind up in a regifting bag.
Yes, yes, I’ve bought it for myself, but I’m going to give it to you because I don’t need it after all, or I can’t afford to go shopping again to get the gift I had in mind for you, so you’re getting mine now.
Boxing Day! The cleverness of getting away with, completely legitimately, the act of giving used gifts to friends made me stand taller alongside my habit of shopping for treasures and antiques at shops like Goodwill that also practice recycling.
I shop in these musty places because my money stretches like Pinocchio’s nose if I can find what I need there, and all the better, if the items happen to have their price tags still attached. Some do, you know. My own mother is gifted at finding the items with the tags on.
Both of our mothers, my husband’s and mine, taught us that it can be better to pay once for something of the best quality, than paying for lesser quality items several times over whenever they wear out.
Despite our mamas’ mantras honoring quality over quantity, another creed held certain longings at bay. “It isn’t what you earn, it’s what you save that counts.” Sometimes we absorb conflicting maxims and remain unsure of which to follow when.
On this pre-Christmas shopping event 20 years ago, my husband and I were at the local Goodwill for a “that’ll do coat”, I, because of my guilt and cleverness to “make do” in an expensive season. He, because of his penny-pinching, calculating parents who taught him to be narrow in the budget whenever possible.
I can’t remember what my husband was really there for. Maybe we were browsing for different reasons, but I was really there to get a “new” coat.
It was he who found the northern red wool. He lifted it off the rack and straight out of One Morning In Maine by Robert McCloskey. “Look at this one!” he called. I glanced his way and we both grinned.
Quilted Christmas green on the inside with a navy-blue trim, the duffle coat had a hood, several deep pockets, a zipper and crafted nautical buttons. I loved it immediately. It covered my rear end, and I expected it to have a luxurious L. L. Bean anorak label.
“Context,” it read inside. Nothing more.
I tried it on. It was satiny inside and roomy enough to grow into. He helped me slip into the red wool, and I zipped up the middle all the way to the mockneck. Buttoning the loose buttons, I dropped my hands into the large warm pockets and saw the dangling drawstrings from the hood. Details created curiosity about this winter chore parka. “But how much is it?”
“Twenty dollars? Are you kidding? Look how new and beautiful it it!” I tried to imagine the kind of person who would let such a treasure escape their winter coat rack. Had he or she lost it?
My husband delighted in my delight and we carried the northern red wool blanket coat to the cashier where he paid for my Christmas present with cash.
Dubbed my blanket coat, I once abused it with building adhesive while wearing it to finish our house in mid-winter. At my dismay, my husband took it to the cleaners and had them make it like new. Another year, when the moths were plaguing us, my anorak served up meals and got holey for the sacrifice. I took it to a tailor who expertly sewed up the holes to non-existence.
My big red has been a safe bright place to belong every winter of my life since.
Twenty dollars and twenty years later remind me that love can come from the best of relationships and the shallowest of pockets.
Why give an non-memorable gift? Why buy anything that isn’t a landmark for practicality and spreading good humor? Over the years, I’ve had other winter coats, more elegant ones, and others I don’t remember. I’ve given coats to charity, and perhaps a recipient feels the way I did at the sight of her “new” coat.
My red blanket coat was pulled over my shoulders again at the beginning of this winter’s frigid temperatures. I smiled at the perfect weight of it. I always do when it occurs to me how rich I am.
Great gifts and holiday celebrations are not measured by easy commodities. Sometimes they are recycled gifts. Sometimes they are surprises. And, sometimes, they are a day late of Christmas.
“She will bring forth a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for he will save His people from their sins.” Matthew 12:21
Hope to the world began in Bethlehem in a small cave that served as a stable. The Cave is under the oldest church in the world, the Church of the Nativity. Many come to see the cave and the star which marks the birthplace.
A few years ago I was given the opportunity to visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. As I descended in the dark narrow stairs which led us into the small stable, I felt a glorious hope from God! As I knelt to touch the star I became overwhelmed with the emotions because the birth of Jesus was the divine will of God to save his people from their sins! To save me from my sins! That first Christmas night, Jesus became personal in Bethlehem! “The word became flesh, and and dwelt among us” ( John 1:14). In Jesus’ birth, God declares the hope of His presence. His presence became flesh, with us. What a divine moment.
The last verse of O Little Town of Bethlehem reads, “O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray! Cast out our sins and enter in, be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels, the great tidings tell; O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel!”
May that holy night of our dear Savior’s birth call you into a personal relationship with him, in living a Holy life before God, seeking quietness and silent nights, intimate moments, and may your soul feel His worth.
Hope is here!
What a wonderful and glorious hope we have because God offers us the gift of living hope to all who seek it!
This advent season has ended now. So, I ask, is Christ real to you?
Has He taken residence in your life?
Let Him be born in your heart today.
Diane Andrews lives in northern Montana near the Canadian border in a reservation town called Wolf Point. She was saved and discipled by mentors in Young Life, a ministry to high school students across America. She became a pastor’s wife and is a down-to-earth speaker on the topics of the women of the Bible and how to find Jesus in your real life. Diane is the founder and director of R&R Retreats. Though Diane is severely dyslexic, she is the author of My Step Journal published by Captured Books.
The last time I remember baking a dessert from scratch was three years into marriage, now 26 years ago.
I’d invited the whole family over for Thanksgiving. The sun was pouring through the windows, the feast was complete with smiling expectant faces for the promising desserts, when I brought out the traditional pies plus one. The South African milk tart had become my favorite having lived and worked in that country a few years earlier, and I was eager to share it with everyone I loved back home.
In the midst of preparing everything needed for our Thanksgiving party, I’d singed the milk needed for the tart. “Oh, well,” I thought, “it won’t hurt much.” Quickly pouring it out of the over-heated pan, into the crust, I finished the milk tart.
But, it did matter. Quite a lot. Sampling the tart, the nervous hostess, who was me, was forced to alert everyone else to avoid it.
For some reason, this bitter fail colored all of my future baking interests. Oh, I’ve made meal after meal over my thirty years of marriage, but I never brought out the sugar and softened butter, the vanilla, or any of my other favorite ingredients. Besides, I was always on the plump side, and I hoped the discipline of avoiding home-cooked yummies would help the situation.
About two years ago, I found an interesting cookie cutter rolling pin at a Goodwill store and it inspired me to try to bake the sugar cookies that just can’t be imitated by store purchases. Maybe it was for candy cutting. Either way, it would be fun, I decided. When we cleaned out the house last year, my husband tried to toss these kinds of things he’d never seen me use, but he’d never seen my yearning for home-baked cookies either.
I salvaged the cookie cutter
Inside, stood my defiant self sticking out my tongue at the multi-billion weight-loss industry. I was going to bake something yummy.
Still, it wasn’t until two weeks before Christmas, when looking through the cupboards, that I rediscovered the quirky cookie cutter. It was the day before my husband’s birthday. I wanted to spoil him because his special day often gets swallowed up in the holidays.
Google came in handy as I looked up my favorite cookie recipes. I started with peanut butter kisses and substituted the chocolate kisses for miniature healthy peanut butter cups pressed into the middle.
Then, I went on to soft, traditional oatmeal raisin cookies. The writer of this recipe assumed I knew how much sugar and butter to whip together, how many eggs to add, how much cinnamon, vanilla and baking soda to use. Reaching deep into memories of girlish baking, I put the basics back together and decided to trust my intuition.
Thankfully, I still had some hard chunks of brown sugar in a bag at the top of the cupboard. I also found an inch of molasses left in a bottle.
The recipe that I invented included a few new essentials
A magnifying glass to read the ingredients and the recipe
An ice-cream scoop to pound the brown sugar lumps to smithereens
No fancy Kitchenaid mixer gets any credit
My hand-me-down, hand-held beaters worked fine after I softened our frozen butter in the microwave. Mixing my made-up portions of oats, eggs, vanilla, flour, butter and sugar together, butter and sugar first, of course, I threw in some old raisins. Raisins keep forever – just about. No harm done there.
Dipping into the oven, I traded the pan of hot peanut butter kiss cookies for a sheet of the oatmeal raisin drops.
Then, I went to look up the recipe for the highlight of the season, sugar cookies!
In the meantime, I found a recipe for Oatmeal raisin cookies with the proper amounts listed for the ingredients, so I added a little more flour and butter and sugar and oatmeal, and I decided to add a banana and walnuts to the last half of the dough. I lowered the oven temperature on those already baking.
Back to the sugar cookie recipe, it soon became clear that I needed to roll out the dough, let it sit in the refrigerator, then use the cookie cutter and finally, decorate the little images with icing or colored sugar.
My heart sank at the traditional rolling pin that would be needed. The last time I recalled seeing a rolling pin, I put it somewhere the-sun-don’t-shine that would insure I’d never happen upon it again.
The ingredients called for a bit of almond flavoring. My favorite. But, nope, I had removed the temptation of almond paste and almond flavoring from my kitchen long ago.
Sugar cookies were going to need a real baker. I mixed up the sugar and butter, measured out the flour and set it all aside.
The oatmeal raisin cookies were smelling a bit pungent. I swung open the oven and removed the pan of cookies now black around the edges. Quickly, I used the old-fashioned metal spatula to swoop up the cookies from the heated sheet and deposit them onto the cooling sheet.
A familiar bitterness taunted
Just then, my dog started barking alerting me to the fact that my husband was home from work. I opened the door to greet the birthday boy and I gave him a kiss wondering how long it would take for him to notice the air-filled sweetness. Would he ask about today’s kitchen episodes?
“Umm, what smells so good?”
“You made cookies?!”
“Yep. For you.”
“For your birthday.”
His hand started moving toward the cooling sheet. I steered it to the peanut butter kiss cookie adaption that I’d enjoyed tasting earlier. “You’ll probably like these better, Hon.”
He munched and smiled and said a few crazy nuthins as he pulled me close.
He gathered up a couple and began munching again as he reported on the occurrences in his day. Then, to my pleasure he was too distracted to continue. “Umm, these are great, Honey!”
“I love ‘em.”
“But, they’re a little burnt.” My admission colors the air.
“You know how you loved burnt toast when you were a kid?”
“Well, my favorite was having a bit of a burn on my oatmeal raisin cookies. That’s why I’m not fond of the regular kind. These are wonderful!”
Oh, gosh, his pre-birthday surprise is an unexpected win!
“You know what I want to do tomorrow on my birthday? I want to grab a stack of these with a cup of coffee and have them for breakfast. That’s all I really want. Well—and I want a little time to cuddle with you. That’d be my perfect birthday.”
I’ve never lost my cuddly appearance, even with the years of home baked abstinence. The older I get, the rounder I have become, but that just doesn’t seem to matter to the one who loves me.
It will be a fun experiment to try to make sugar cookies for Christmas since Santa himself is a jolly ol’ elf.
It will also be a great to try out the Goodwill roller cutter on something else, whether it be little pastries, or mini Swiss chocolates, or maybe some mint cream cheese sweets. That’s my sweet New Year’s resolution.
Lynn Byk is a memoir author with Capture Books. She is available to speak at book clubs or women’s events about practical ways to care for the elderly in one’s life.
Reprinted by permission from her December 19, 2019 blog, Coffee with Kathy.
This message is bathed in hope for the parent who has not heard from her kids, who might not see them at Christmas.
I want you to know it won’t always be this way.
“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while,
will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” 1 Peter 5:10
My late husband, Roger, was fond of saying, “Let’s make the kind of memories that keep the kids coming back home – even when they’re grown.”
Oh! How I loved Roger’s enthusiasm for special calendar dates – particularly Christmastime and All Things Winter.
To commemorate the First Snow, he and I wrapped a “snow gift” for each of the girls. For gift-wrapping, he used the funny papers.
He was thrilled at the arrival of egg nog in the dairy section – he went nuts with the stuff, pouring it into his morning coffee and grabbing enough cartons to store in the freezer “to get through the winter months”, he would say.
For years, we bundled the girls and searched tree farms for just the right tree to grace our Colorado home.
Every Christmas Eve, he read from Luke’s account of the birth of Christ; when our daughters became readers, they read it out loud to the family.
We had an advent calendar.
He sang the carols, often adding verses he made up on the fly.
He insisted on driving us around the neighborhood to look at the festive light displays.
He was big on memories and minimal on material things.
So many rich traditions, steeped in the wonder of raising our girls; the sweet simplicity of being a family together.
Four months shy of Christmas 2008, Roger died.
The girls were 18 and 15.
A black shadow passed over our little snow globe of a family.
What if they don’t come home?
For three years of emotional drought, they didn’t.
It was dreadful for me, the surviving parent.
A mom who is unsure of her child’s safety and well-being is a pile of misery, and that’s what I was during those lean years.
I won’t go into the whys and the pain of those whys. Grief is weird. A sudden loss can unravel a lifetime and reorder it into something scary, chaotic, unknown.
We all respond in different ways. My daughters turned from me, not in open rejection or hostility, but in the throes of sudden, unexpected loss.
What if they don’t come home?
Christmas during those years was the stark reality of an empty chair, a huge hole he once filled with his larger-than-life-laughter. The emptiness was intensified by my fractured family.
And that star? The one shining in the east? That star was shrouded in a fog of grief and worry; I couldn’t see it through the haze and maze of guilt, fear, anger.
All I could feel was the dull ache of my heart, thumping along in spite of wanting to disappear, to fold up inside my pain.
I’d become an exile to my husband’s family, through a sad myriad of misunderstandings.
Being an outsider to in-laws, that’s pretty hard to deal with. Being an outsider to your own kids – that’s impossible to endure.
Then, we had a series of fun celebrations together. Endearment was restored like a chain of Christmas lights getting the dud bulbs replaced so that the whole string twinkles, unbroken.
Covid 19 has crimped the style of families everywhere. For our safety, holiday celebrations are limited, shops, even grocery stores, and home celebrations closed down. We are given tips on how to keep children safe and parents informed during 2021.
During Thanksgiving, people posted humble but joyful pictures of their small feasts for two, three, and even singular plates on social media. They called it the war of light and loveliness on the darkness of this holiday season. Still, when I called my own mother to tell her that I had been exposed to the disease at work and could not risk her health, she wept. She and I both sat alone with our thoughts this Thanksgiving, like many others.
My adult girls remember their dad’s corny jokes. They ask about his favorite movies, then they watch them. But, there are many episodes of tragic family attitudes and events in our history, and probably in yours, that haunt our current decisions and lives. Parents are blamed for decisions they didn’t have the wherewithal to tackle; they should have been wiser. Children are not excused because they were trained up better than that.
Helplessly, we grapple for promises of better days from the only One who can provide these to us.
The Lord has promised to restore what the locust has eaten.
I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you. “You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame.
Does this promise mean today, tomorrow, or next year? I believe He does restore our souls in mysterious ways, and we can depend on that, but it doesn’t always look the way we want it to look. And, this is why our faith is often called a “walk of faith” “traveling in darkness” “running the race” because we don’t bear our weights in vain. They make us stronger.
We honor Roger’s memory in small, sweet ways. We laugh a lot, we cry some, we laugh some more.
His name is a regular part of our conversation.
Before, we avoided saying it for fear our brittle voices would break and scatter on the floor.
We can now dream of the future and we know the strength of forgiveness, the binding up of wounds.
My daughters call regularly to check in on me; my oldest planned a June wedding and made it happen even in the pandemic, and it was a landmark memory I will always cherish.
It’s not a Hallmark movie; there are still some things quietly coming to the light to be dealt with as we continue forward.
Cars break down, we have health scares, there are often misunderstandings to be ironed out. The point is, we’re doing life together again – as an extended family finds ways to do so.
This year, I celebrate the many times the kids and I have been together. It has been a hard year once again, but I am stronger and more creative than I once was. They will come home for Christmas another time.
And that star? The one shining in the east? That star is a glowing reminder of God’s presence, His longing to be in a relationship with us. He traveled from His heavenly home and spiritual body to become human and to wander in a strange, unwelcoming place. It meant everything for Him to do that.