Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Oh Those Tangled Things We Weave

                                     Crave God and run your guts out.”—Jennie Allen

I once bought a vacuum cleaner that boasted a tangle-proof cord, a claim I promptly disproved. There is no flexible thing longer than two feet that I can’t have in a knot within minutes. I wrap my hair dryer cord carefully around its handle and tuck it gently in the drawer, but it must be doing some knotty things at night because every morning there it is— all tangled up with the flat iron cord. (I heard that groan!)

And I’ve mentioned before how, as a kid, I got my hair in a wad by putting a wound up wind-up car next to my ear so I could listen to the whine. It took about one second for my hair to wrap around the spinning wheels. I walked around with a car hanging from my head until my mother cut the whole thing free.

Knots and tangles. I was thinking there wasn’t a good thing to say about them but then I remembered a time back in my crafty days when I learned how to macramĂ© and my house was filled with knotted plant holders suspended in front of every window.

So I’m thinking about those yards of beautifully patterned knots, and how so many of the poignant bits of life stories that emerged during a creative nonfiction workshop I led this weekend had beginnings in life-knots—circumstances that were difficult to see the pattern in at the time—and I’m beginning to appreciate the hidden beauty of knots.

Then, one thing led to another as one thing so often does: I picked up Jennie Allen’s book and Bible study, Restless: Because You were Made For More, and read, “Just as we see the threads of God’s purpose weaving through Joseph’s life, our goal is to lay out the threads running through our own [lives.]”

Finding purpose and patterns in tangled threads. “When we see how they weave together, we better understand ourselves.”-Allen

So since Allen so seamlessly wove herself into my morning musings, it seems a good time to brag on her Bible study (which I delayed reviewing because of my father-in-law’s death).

Through each of the eight video-based units, using the life of Joseph as a backdrop, Allen prods us to realize the people, places, circumstances and even sufferings in our lives are all material God uses to weave his purpose in us.

The older we get, the easier it is to see that the course of our life was not/is not random, but I appreciate how Jennie Allen chases after God’s purpose, how she challenges us to remember we already matter, that we’ve been given gifts for the
purpose of helping others. So let’s make our days count for the time we have been born to.

Her prayer for us is “that God and eternity would get bigger and more real in our lives, and as they do, we would feel more compelled to live for eternity and Jesus Christ than this short life.”

Yes and Amen! to that.

Previously I used Allen’s study Chase with a group of women meeting in a local cafĂ©. That study was well received because its design encouraged deep reflection and conversation. Although I am in between group studies right now, I have read the book Restless (can be purchased separately) and have reviewed these Bible study materials, which once again are beautiful, probing, and challenging.

They are designed for participation and personal application, and at the same time are anchored in Scripture. Check them out.

Something deep inside us is made to live for a story bigger than ourselves—the story of the one who made us.”—Jennie Allen, Restless

As we sneeze (here in the land of blossoming things) or snow-shovel (for those of you dear ones still sloshing through—I hate to even say it—snow—Blessings of abundant joy!


Monday, March 31, 2014

The Pillar of Creation

They are called the Pillars of Creation, these spectacular gas formations so far away that by the time their light reaches us, they are thousands of years older. (Or maybe not even there at all.)

 Pictures from the Herschel Space Observatory must drive the most obstinate atheist crazy with wonder. 

One of the pillars is reportedly four light years tall. How tall is that? Try this from the NASA Glenn Learning site:
"The light-year is a measure of distance, not time. It is the total distance that a beam of light, moving in a straight line, travels in one year. To obtain an idea of the size of a light-year, take the circumference of the earth (24,900 miles), lay it out in a straight line, multiply the length of the line by 7.5 (the corresponding distance is one light-second), then place 31.6 million similar lines end to end. The resulting distance is almost 6 trillion (6,000,000,000,000) miles!"--That's one light year!                                                               

The other night as my husband and I watched a show on these and other breath-taking marvels—like the planet, Wasp 12b, whose clouds are filled with corundum, the stuff of sapphires (imagine a world where it rains sapphires!)—I  wondered why God would create such magnificent, word-defying, incomprehensible beauty that no one gets to see. 

Well, he certainly does, and maybe once he let his God-creativity loose, he just couldn't help but make mind-boggling beauty. And maybe, we will get to see it all one day. I have to confess that I've taken biblical references to "foundations of sapphires, and "streets of gold" rather metaphorically, but I'm beginning to realize that if the Hubble telescope's sojourn through space is giving us such God-awe-inspiring glimpses of majesty, how unimaginable, how incomprehensible is the beauty of his presence and place that he tells us our eyes have not seen, ears have not heard and minds can not imagine!

But lest I stay worshiping him out in the marvels of the universe, this same Creator, transcends light-year time travel and meets me in my early morning devotion with one of my favorite reminders of how much he cares about even one:

John 20
Mary gets up early and goes in the dark—by herself—to the tomb where Jesus was. What did she expect to see? Probably not an empty tomb. After she runs to get the other disciples and they discover the cloths lying there sans body, they go home. But Mary waits, and when she looks in the tomb, she sees angels. And then, a man, who when he speaks her name, "Mary," she recognizes as Jesus. 

A few minutes earlier she had run to tell Peter that Jesus was taken away, gone. Now she runs to tell him, "I have seen the Lord." What a difference a moment makes.

Why Mary? Why did she see angels and Jesus but Peter and John didn't?

I don't know, but it touches me deep. And I pause to marvel that the One who made those stunning Pillars of Creation didn't hide himself out there, unseen, unknown, but met a young woman outside the cave that was supposed to trap him, and called her by name. Just as he calls me by mine—and you by yours. 

How marvelous is that.

Blessings abundant, friends. Thank you for stopping by. I pray this year, this April, he will meet you at that place where you are hoping to find him, where you are seeking comfort in knowing that he is indeed not gone, but very present with you.


Thursday, March 13, 2014

A modern day drink offering

Sometimes it’s hard for me to imagine some of the Bible stories. I have no trouble with a world-wide flood and a man loading an ark with a bunch of animals, but for some reason the account in Judges about Samson catching three hundred foxes and tying their tails together and lighting them with firebrands, well, I just have to take it on faith.

You just don’t see that kind of thing today.

And then there’s the story about David holed up in a cave and having a peculiar desire for water from a well near Bethlehem, which was occupied by Philistines. When three of his mighty men heard this indulgent muse from their king, they risked their lives to break through enemy lines and bring him his desire.

When I read this the first time, I anticipated the story to continue along the line of David’s profuse thanks and reward, but wait—instead, he poured the precious gift out on the ground before the LORD!

 I know this speaks of loyalty and really honoring the risk the men took. It also speaks of offering these precious gifts to God.

The other Sunday, one man in our church felt that the Lord told him to give some money to another man, who, it was known, was in a situation of need. The first man obeyed and gave the second a bill, and then watched, astounded, as he put the money in the offering box.

“I gave that money to you,” the giver said.

“Yes, and now I have something to give the Lord,” the recipient replied.

Right before my eyes, I saw David pouring out his precious drink gift.

May I hold the gifts in my hand so loosely.


Friday, February 28, 2014

A Fortuitous Kicking the Bucket

Kicking the literal bucket that is, not the proverbial keel over and hoof it off to eternity kind. A recent news story about a California couple has captured my attention.

From what I glean from reports, it was a day not particularly unlike any other.The couple had no reason to suspect one tiny little action during a perfectly mundane walk would propel their lives in a different direction. They got up, probably ate, brushed their teeth and decided to walk the dog on their property, something I’m sure they had done many times.

During their walk, they noticed the rim of a bucket sticking out of the earth.Instead of passing it by,they stopped and poked the dirt from it.Then seeing it had both ends, dug it out with a stick and took it home, where they opened it and discovered it contained dirt encrusted disks. Disks which turned out to be rare gold coins worth ten million dollars.

Once I chased off the green eye of envy, I saw several lessons in their story:

 1. They weren’t doing anything spectacular, no “If only we were somewhere else doing something else,” grumblings. (I inferred this from a statement they made about how much they enjoyed the life they had and didn’t want to change it.)
 2.  Even though walking the dog was routine, they were still observant, maybe expectant.
 3. They were curious—didn’t pass by a rusty bucket rim buried in dirt.
 4. They acted upon their curiosity.
 5. They were wise with their discovery—waited to get counsel, avoided the press and “fame” (which no doubt would bring hordes with backhoes and metal detectors).

But particularly intriguing to me was the statement they made: “I never would have thought we would have found something like this. However, in a weird way I feel like I have preparing my whole life for it.”

Hmmm. I wonder what they mean about that. Was it because they had property in Gold County California that they wondered about gold finds? Had they often speculated what they would do if they had a lot of money? Or did they just have a feeling that there was something more to their lives?

Although I’ll probably never know, their statement made me think about how we are to live as Christians. 

We know we have treasure in heaven but I’m pretty certain we are going to be Amazed when the time comes  when all we have lived for, hoped for, and believed in is revealed. When the Son of Man comes in glory and all the angels with Him

Like the couple who felt they had been preparing their whole life for this treasure, those of us who are Christians live all our lives—each and every ordinary day— girding our minds for action, fixing our hope on the grace to be received at the revelation of Jesus (1Peter1:13), knowing the proof of [our] faith being more precious than gold ... may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1Peter1:7).

So walk your dog or change those diapers or hammer those nails or write that article on this ordinary day, being expectant, thankful and confident that indeed you too have treasure laid up for you. 

And keep your eyes open--who knows what you may find!

Grace and blessings abundant,

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Just Like Mom

My daughter called me the other day to say she had come to a shocking realization. She found herself responding to a situation “just like mom.” I like to think that meant responsibly, orderly, and thoughtfully—traits sometimes referred to as anal by children in the throes of independence who believe they are plowing swaths through snow clogged highways. Highways their parents must never have traveled.

The thing is, when she told me how she had responded, she was proud—as though marveling at the discovery that what she had previously regarded as Mom harpings now made perfect sense.

Ah, thank you, Lord. I knew we would get to this point one day. For some of us that new found mom appreciation is a while in coming. Especially if your daughter is a lot more like you than she realized. I look forward to being able to share some mom stuff with her now—woman to woman.

The same week my daughter realized she acted “just like mom,” my sister sent me a birthday card (this year a lovely one instead of a snarky Maxine one reminding me of the perils of old age).  In her note, my sister wrote, “You’ve picked up many of Mom’s qualities.”

If so, I am a proud of that.

Unfortunately, I too was older before I appreciated what my mother taught me. Sometimes we teased that she was “ditzy,” something I realized late in life was far from the truth.

Mom never made excuses for opportunities she didn’t have, but found ways to accomplish much with what she did have. Although she didn’t graduate from high school, she bought us every set of books the door-to-to peddlers had to offer, from encyclopedias, to set of science and literature. She not only inspired a love of learning in us, but she gave herself an education to rival many.

By example, she taught me faith and loyalty and perseverance, things I’ve written about before.

And one of the loveliest things about her was that she found beauty where none was apparent. Our house, though sufficient, was worse for wear. For as long as I remember, a part of the ceiling in my bedroom was missing –fell off during a hurricane one year. Household appliances were often more work than worth. (For years we took turns sitting on the washing machine during the spin cycle, an act I credit to keeping my butt from taking on the Chadwick spread. And the five of us kids contributed more chaos than the three-roomed downstairs could contain or a weary mom could maintain.

But Mom knew where to find the first tiny mayflowers, the elusive jack-in-the-pulpit and the brook trout in the river across the field. Whenever I see a violet on the side of the road I think of Mom’s love for beauty in the midst of disorder.

Later in life, she taught herself to paint and all that locked up beauty came out in tiny brush strokes. And like so many women who have nothing but some cloth and thread or ball of yarn, she learned to spin beauty.

Just before she died I asked her to teach me to crochet. We’d sit on the couch, side by side, and she’d wrap the yarn around her finger, and I would try to copy, but not even get the gist of a slip knot, so we’d start again. And I’d master a chain, then turn and go back.

“Skip the first single crochet,” she’d say.

“Which one is the first?” I’d ask, a question that seems so ridiculously stupid until you try to figure it out—hint— not the first chain.

Well, that cancer inched through her brain before I figured it out. But Mom taught me perseverance, so I pulled a ball out from her tidy unfinished projects bag and make a slip knot, then chained thirty and turned and single crocheted back across the row. All the while remembering her there by my side.

The only problem is I still haven’t figured out where the end and beginning stitches are, so, my pot holders have a peculiar resemblance to the shape of the United States.

Well, there may be some things we never end up doing “just like Mom.”

Through snow storms, ice storms, unpheaved plans, give thanks, find beauty and persevere.

Blessings friends,

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Old Man and the Snowman

Sometime after his arrival the hugs stopped. I hoped it was enough to just serve him—make his meals, and showers, attend to laundry and bodily malfunctions. Take him for a daily ride and watch Wheel of Fortune.

 I was tethered to his myopic world. Tethered and tetchy.

I hoped it was enough. But it wasn't.

We were having lunch when I commented on the wild, wiry rim of hair that circled his bald head. “Pa, you look like you put your finger in a light socket,” I said, in my heart annoyed he had become so lax with so many of his grooming habits. I put my fork down, got the scissors, wrapped him in a towel and started cutting. Combing and cutting—carefully around the ears—he was worried about that.

When I finished and gave him a “Ta Da!” he started crying. He held my hand, respectful not to impose with the kiss he longed to give, as though knowing an old man’s body wasn't welcome. 

I scooped him in my arms and planted a big one on his cheek.I hadn't realized how much he needed to feel love. I hadn't realized how much I had let service replace it. A noisy gong clanged in the background of my mind. (1Cor.13)

The next day it snowed. I made him a snowman. He kissed me again. 

A haircut, a hug, a snowman at breakfast. Not too difficult.

Epilogue (of sorts)
I don’t know what all this warm fuzzy released in him—up at 8:30 this morning (usually eats and goes back to bed half the day) looking for things to do (with me!).

Oh my. I hope that’s not noisy gongs and clanging cymbals I hear again.

Blessings on this National Escape Day of January 2014—a  good to remember the caregivers in your life—they need breaks too.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Runner in the Night and the Storyteller

Always there is a story. 

And sometimes that story lands in the hands of a story teller so masterful that all the thoughts rattling around in your own mind just STOP. And take in the awe.


Thursday, January 16, 2014

God's arrows of victory

Although my only experiences with bows and arrows were from playing cowboys and Indians with our cap guns and string-strung sticks, I find the imagery to be a powerful spiritual metaphor

 I can almost see the arrows of prayer and purpose, and even attack, punching through the spiritual realm into the physical.  (Want to read how that imagery helped me to publish a book?)

According to the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, this thinking is similar to the ancients’ prescientific worldview which recognized an unseen reality paralleling the visible one; a reality in which “a just person participated in spiritual warfare fought by greater powers with unseen weapons whose results spilled over into the visible universe.”*

(I didn’t think I had an ancient’s prescientific worldview—aren’t we fighting against unseen powers with spiritual weaponry whose results spill into our visible realm? Help me out here if you can.)


The Bible is rich with references to the arrow(s) of God, arrows of good and evil, and arrows of speech. According to the ancients, because of its swiftness and long range accuracy, the “bow and arrow was not only a weapon to be feared in the visible world but also the prime symbol of justice meted out.”—Dictionary of Biblical Imagery

Yes, the devil has his “fiery darts,” but God’s arrows are the ones to be feared. They always hit their mark. Always find the chink in the armor. “Thine arrows are sharp; The peoples fall under Thee; Thine arrows are in the heart of the King’s enemies”.—Psalm 45:5

And always win the victory, as Elisha told the king of Israel when he commanded him to open the window to the east and shoot “The LORD’s arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Syria!”—2 Kings 13:17

But sometimes God’s arrows seem pointed at us, as Jeremiah laments:  “He has bent His bow and set me as the target for the arrow. He has made the arrows of His quiver to enter my inward parts . . . .I have forgotten happiness. . . .My strength has perished, and so has my hope from the LORD.”—Lamentations 3:12-18

That is about as depressed a state a person can sink to.

On those days when it feels like you hardly have enough strength to shoot a rubber-tipped toy arrow— Shoot! Shoot God’s arrow of victory at however tiny a piece of Truth you can recall and watch it stick—“The LORD’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail” Then shoot again: “Great is Thy faithfulness.” And again: (Oh, go for the whole chapter!—Lamentations 3: 21).

Remarkably, even though Jeremiah thinks he has lost hope, he musters up a sliver of truth. And then another. And it is enough to open the gates of hope and help him climb out of despair.

Thing is, God knows those times when we can’t even shoot our toy arrows, and arms others to shoot for us—to be “bows in the hands of God.”—Isaiah 49:2—which is what I set out to examine today, but I think I will think about that tomorrow.

For now, may you be encouraged that it is not our own bows that will save us (Psalm 44:6) but our being a bow in the hands of a God who cannot fail. "The LORD is my portion," says my soul, Therefore I have hope in Him."--Lamentations 3:24

Blessings this midweek of January 2014,

*Love this ambitious work: Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, edited by Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit and Tremper Longman III

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Most Formidable Weapon of All

For a person who derives great pleasure in finding the right words to express an idea, I am starting this year remarkably adrift. 

After taking holiday time off, I find the discipline to sit and think, to observe and write, requires the same kind of effort as hauling myself off to the gym. (A procrastination I quelled by downloading a good book on my nook and allowing myself to read only on the treadmill. Gotta know your rewards.)

The problem is purpose. Focus. Direction. And for those of us with task driven personalities, losing your purpose is like being adrift in a dingy without oars. You can either wait for a current to catch or start kicking.

I started with prayer. Even that is work. There is a pressing in, a labor of ask, seek, knock, and a trust that even if you haven’t broken through to the experience of God’s pleasure, you are sure of his presence. As Manning says, “When the craving for reassurances is stifled, trust happens.”

So, I am believing the words from my New Year’s Day reading: “Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know.”—Jeremiah 33:3

And I am persevering like the bothersome widow before the unrighteous judge (Luke 18) who is rewarded for perseverance, and like the Syrophoenician woman (Matthew 15), who withstood what could have been perceived as rebuff or offence, and pressed on to receive her reward.

Because there are times when it seems “God has unstrung your bow” as Job laments,

And there are tyrant keepers: The Procrastinator, The Critic, The Judge, and The Taskmaster who delight in keeping you down. 

But there are things you can do, small and indirect as they may seem, that can dismantle
these tyrants as surely as David’s stone toppled the giant. (Will talk more about these later.)

Today I just want to encourage you that prayer is the most formidable weapon we have. If only we could gain even a mustard seed sized glimpse of just Whom we are speaking with and how much He values our prayer.  

A saint's life is in the hands of God like a bow and arrow in the hands of an archer.”—Oswald Chambers. (This year I am full of the bow and arrow imagery and analogy God use.)

For now, imagine what this would look like in your situation today:

Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Lord, would you touch each of those who have paused here and whose lives have briefly entwined with mine, and fill us with the zeal to ask, seek, knock, and find more of YOU.


Tuesday, December 31, 2013

We press on

Simply thanking you                                                                                                                                                                


                                            Love this photo! December around the world
                                                   (in case you missed it on Ann V's site)

                       for stopping by, for sharing your time and thoughts, and prayers. Whether through storm or sunshine, may we encourage one another to press on to "know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge . . . "- Ephesians 3:19

Blessings abundant,

Monday, December 30, 2013

Handing out tracts: When your blessing looks more like a cursing

  “None of my failures in faithlessness proved terminal.”—                           Brennan Manning

I don’t know where you stand on the knocking on doors or handing out tracts at Walmart approach to evangelism. It’s not for everyone and it’s certainly not without personal hazards. 

Even those with the zeal or chutzpah to approach strangers need to be prepared for rebuffs and outright criticism, which like well-aimed arrows can home in on your Achilles heel and elicit an unexpected retort.

Actually this potential to set out to bless but be triggered to curse (of sorts) can happen anytime as James so clearly warns.  It’s very disheartening, even more so than say if you woke up in a peevish mood to begin with and weren’t at all surprised by the thoughtless word that fell out of your mouth. (Not that that is any less a sin.)

But when you’ve risen from prayer and set out to share the good news and end up wishing you had stuffed your tracts in your own mouth, well, that’s fodder for a self beating, as a friend recently told me.

She hadn’t wanted to go with the church group to hand out tracts, but woke in the middle of the night with the thought that she should. Since the same nudging was on her mind as soon as she woke the next morning, she decided to go for an hour.

Apart from a good discussion with one person, the time was uneventful. Just as she was leaving, my friend felt impressed to approach another woman and ask if she could give her a tract. The woman suddenly snapped at her, and before she could shut her mouth, my friend responded with a less-than-tactful-but probably-very-insightful question that triggered a volley of anger.

My friend knew the Holy Spirit was urging her to hush up and go, but she lobbed off one more retort before succumbing to wisdom. All of which led to an afternoon of self-recrimination, disgust, disappointment (and I suspect, some still smoldering embers).

In the midst of her crying to the Lord about what happened, she was stopped short by His response. “That woman was the one. She was your appointment. Pray for her.”

God’s reversal.

Condemnation redeemed with correction. Guilt covered with mercy. And lost opportunity regained with hope through the power of prayer.

 God’s grace over sinners and saints all.

Thank God we are not stuck in our own failures. Thank God He makes our ugly ashes into works of beauty. And thank God, as Manning says, “None of my failures in faithlessness proved terminal."


Blessings friends on this cusp of one year's ending and another's beginning.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Someone's at the door

No one can show up at our door unannounced. Our dog will see to that. But when I was a kid, people came and went freely—milkmen, breadmen, men who worked for my father.

 People at the door often brought welcome news or company, but sometimes trouble came to the door in the form of a bill collector, and my mother would hide us kids and pretend no one was home.

Even if you don’t have an excitable dog, a knock at the door elicits curiosity, a sense of anticipation. Something happens at the door.

Among other things, doors, in the Bible, are metaphors for temptation (sin crouches at the door—Gen. 4:7), providence(God opens doors before Cyrus to fulfil His purpose) opportunity(Paul looks for doors to open to the Gospel), Christ (John 10) and the return of Christ :”. . . .When you see these things, you will know it( The Son of Man coming out of the sky on clouds in power and glory!) is right at the door.” (Matthew 24:33)

In rereading the gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth I thought about the people who came to Mary’s door. 

 There’s Gabriel, the same angel who introduced himself to Zechariah as one who stand[s} in the presence of God. Regardless of how careful you are to keep angels in their place and not entertain the idea of worshipping them, you have to admit, it’s pretty thrilling to think about a visible, tangible being who stands in the presence of God, now standing right in front of you.

And then there were the unexpected visitors at the door of her cave/stable. At least shepherds were indigenous to the surroundings, even if their visit and their account of heavenly host did cause Mary to ponder these things in her heart.

Still later, occupied with all that having a toddler entails, Mary must have been amazed to see magi from far-off lands, bearing lavish gifts of incense, gold and myrrh, standing at her door.
I don't know who will be standing before your door this holiday season, or before whose doors you will stand, but I pray that you will be the bearer and receiver of blessings of great joy (And remember you don't know if you might be entertaining angels!)

Merry Christmas, friends,

 Lift up your heads, O you gates;/ be lifted up you ancient doors,/ that the King of glory may come in./Who is this King of glory?/The LORD strong and mighty, . .  .the LORD Almighty—he is the King of glory. –Psalm 24: 8, 10

My personal Christmas “door” story was of a time I was in northern Minnesota with little money to get home to Vermont for Christmas. But the thought of my parents’ disappointment about not having their children with them haunted me.( In case you’d like to continue, I’ve included the story below, which although true, is written as fiction because I couldn’t remember all the exact details.)

Gifts—Even When There Is No Money

Two days before Christmas. With two hundred dollars in her pocket and twelve hundred miles ahead of her, she figured the chances of getting home weren’t good. Anna felt the disappointment masked as understanding travel through her mother’s voice over the phones lines when she told her.

 It would be her parents first Christmas without all their children, three grown and gone, two still there though. Well, they’d certainly miss her, mom said, but they hadn’t given up hope that her brother on leave from the service would make it in time.

Dad would be sad, but hey, that’s what happens in families. Kids grow and go.

Anna set the receiver down and stared at the wall. But she didn’t see the Monet poster tacked up with push pins or the calendar with the snowy Rocky Mountain peaks scene—a gift from the oil company.

What she saw was a Christmas tree lit with fat multi-colored lights that glowed through the heavy drippings of tinsel. Tinsel strands that shimmered and reached out to grab you when you got near. She saw mounds of presents that appeared every year even though her mom warned them not to expect much because they had no money.

And superimposed on Monet’s “Water Lilies” poster, she saw the smiles of parents who had sacrificed and squeezed out from somewhere enough to surprise, gladden, and celebrate their family.

She counted her money once again then dialed information. “Greyhound Bus Terminal, please.”

For the next twenty-four hours, wedged in the middle of the back bench of a Grey Hound bus, all Anna could think about was the surprise and delight on her parents’ faces when they opened the door on Christmas Eve and saw their gift—even though this year there wasn’t money for one.