Saturday, February 17, 2018

Homemaking Inside Out

My husband brought home a clipping the other day. It was an extract from a 1950's home economics book, titled "Tips to Look After Your Husband". Among the "tips" were:

…have a delicious meal on time. This is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking about him and are concerned about his needs.

…take 15 minutes to rest so you will be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your make-up, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh looking.

…run a dust cloth over the tables. Your husband will feel he has reached a haven of rest and order…

…take a few minutes to wash the children's hands and faces... comb their hair… change their clothes.

…eliminate all noise of washer, drier, dishwasher or vacuum. Try to encourage the children to be quiet.

…have him lean back in a comfortable chair or suggest he lie down in the bedroom… arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soft, soothing and pleasant voice.

Sounds archaic and ridiculous to us modern women, doesn't it? Just hearing my husband read from this list made me feel tired and exasperated! (Just for the record, my husband thought it ridiculous and unrealistic too.) On any given day, I may be able to accomplish one or two things on this list, but on a normal day, if I'm in the middle of cooking dinner, the children are (hopefully) happily and noisily playing or doing an art project, the house is not picked up, and I don't have even 5 minutes to refresh myself or take off my husband's shoes! (and really… does he need me to take off his shoes for him?!)

The one thing I did like about this list was "the goal" at the end:

Try to make your home a place of peace and order where your husband can renew himself in body and spirit.

That is always my goal as a homemaker! Though I'm not always able to keep the peace and I'm not the most organized person, I want my home to be a place where my husband (and anyone who steps through my door) feels renewed, encouraged, and loved. I understand what the extract is trying to say, but I also noticed that the list focuses entirely on the external. What is a clean, quiet house if the wife is angry, bitter, worn out, lonely and frustrated? What is a warm, cooked meal if the husband is unaffectionate, emotionally absent, inattentive, ungrateful, and disrespected? Having the appearance of a peaceful, loving home is nothing compared to actually having a peaceful, loving home.

So let's make a new list of tips. 

"TIPS TO LOOK AFTER YOUR HUSBAND" (Take 2)

Respect him

Like you, your husband has opinions, likes and dislikes, emotions. But unlike you, your husband is a man, and so has a different point of view, different strengths and weaknesses, and different responses to a situation. Bottom line–you're going to clash somewhere. But your goal is not to make your husband into another version of you. Your goal is to respect the man for who he is, respect the differences, and discover how you enhance each other and become better together than apart.

One easy way to show him respect is to really listen when he talks. He might just need to release some pressure from work. He might be asking for advice. He might be verbally processing. He might be sharing something interesting from his day. But really listen. If he's giving you his opinion about something, don't demean him or ignore him. Give an answer when needed. Or ask a question. Then share something with him. Having a conversation about something besides the kids  and the mortgage can become a lost art after several years of marriage.

Another easy way to show respect? Encourage, rather than nag. Maybe you'd like to see your husband eat better. Maybe you'd like to see a few tasks get done over the weekend. Talk to him like an adult. Express your concern and needs in a loving way, and ask how you can help remind him without nagging, manipulating or forcing.

Adore him

Your husband wants to be the hunky guy with whom you first fell in love. But when he looks in the mirror, he sees a growing waistline, thinning, graying hair, and wrinkles on his face. And that's only on the outside! Inside, he's maybe wishing that his knees or back wasn't so achey, that he had more time to do what he loves (who wants to feel like little more than a paycheck?), and that he was a better man.

So give him praise. Brag about him in front of people. Ask about his dreams and help him achieve them, even if it's in tiny increments. Thank him for the little things. Maybe it's taking out the garbage. Mowing the grass. Bringing home a paycheck. Rocking a baby to sleep. Let him know that you are grateful for him.

Know him

One thing that doesn't work about the "tips" from the 1950's is that it's "one-size-fits-all." Your husband is not like my husband. There are things that your husband needs that my husband doesn't. Know your husband. My husband is more of an introvert than an extrovert. Sometimes he needs 10 minutes alone in our bedroom to read or rest before tackling our busy family. Sometimes he needs a weekend of doing very little after an especially busy week. He prefers doing art with the kids to camping with the kids. The more I know about my husband, the better I can encourage him to be the best husband and father that he can be.

Involve him

Husbands don't always know what you need at home (and he can't read your mind!) The majority of their day is spent at the workplace, where they know exactly what they need to do. So if you ask him for help around the house, be specific. "Could you please change the baby's diaper?" is better than "Could you do something about the stink?" "Would you mind taking the kids to the park for a bit?" is better than "Could you help with the kids?" Then thank him!

Remember that your husband is growing and changing, and so are you!

Always pray for your husband. He is not a perfect person, but then, neither are you! God is growing both of you to be more like Him, and through that, you and your husband can draw closer to each other. Practice the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22)

Then rather than focus on your husband's deficiencies, look for ways that you can grow. If you are not a very organized or scheduled person, find ways to improve in those areas. If you feel anger towards your husband, work on forgiveness. If you are not a good communicator, be brave and take the step towards being more open, honest, and self-controlled.


These tips are not a 10-step guide to a perfect home. But if you practice love and peace on the inside, your home will be transformed into a haven of peace, comfort, and security for both you and your husband because your outward actions will begin to reflect your inner heart. You will want to cook for your husband. You will want to listen to him talk about his day. You will want to be joyful when he comes home. 

But that taking-off-the-shoes thing? I still don't know about that

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Active Love

Many of you are familiar with the old children's television show, Mr. Roger's Neighborhood. You may or may not know that besides being a TV celebrity, Fred Rogers was a Presbyterian minister. While he didn't preach on his show, his beliefs in the value of children and the importance of practicing neighborly love permeated every second of his air time. 

In his book, The World According to Fred Rogers: Important Things to Remember, Rogers writes:

Love isn't a perfect state of caring. It's an active noun like 'struggle'. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.

How I wish everyone understood this about love! My husband and I will be speaking on dating and romantic relationships to a room full of teenagers on Wednesday, Valentine's Day, and one of the best bit of wisdom we can share with them is exactly what Mr. Rogers said.

Love is not a feeling. Many young people (and older people too) equate love with the high-flying, excitable flutter of being with a certain person. But that feeling will not last. Maybe for a year or two, you will feel "in love". Then the person grows and changes. Or you see something in the person that you don't like. Or he/she does something that annoys you. Or hurts you. The "in love" feeling is gone, replaced by anger, sadness, and bitterness.

The only way for a marriage, or any relationship, to last and survive the negative times is by practicing true and deep, abiding love. This does not mean being kind to a person only what you feel like it. It is not a two-way street: I do something for you when you do something for me. It is not trying to change the person into someone you want him/her to be, or dwelling on the person that you had "loved" once upon a time. 

Love is an action verb. To love, one must act for the other's benefit. One will have to make compromises and sacrifices and put the other person first. One pushes through the ugliness that arises from our sin nature and strives to be a better person. Simply said, love is not passive. I Corinthians 13:4-7, though being a familiar, often-quoted passage, gives a great, "active", definition of love. Notice all the verbs used:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (ESV)

Valentine's Day is around the corner. Besides the usual romantic gestures, what can you do that day (and every day after) to show your loved ones that you LOVE them?

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Bow and Arrows

"We fly the highest after we have been pulled back and stretched, sometimes even more than we think we can bear." -Mica May

This quote comes from an online article I stumbled across; the article was about moms with Down Syndrome children who started meeting to support each other and ended up getting tattoos together. The article was so exuberant that even I said to myself, "If my baby has Down Syndrome, I am totally getting a tattoo like that." The tattoo is simply three V's (signifying arrows) pointing in the same direction. (And I am NOT a tattoo person. Never before had I ever wanted a tattoo of anything. But that's beside the point because…)

More than the thought of getting a tattoo, this quote stuck with me. Whether or not my baby has Down Syndrome, the thought of having an eighth child in a less than eight weeks sometimes bowls me over. If I allow my fears and anxieties to take over, I would find myself hyperventilating in a paralyzed state of complete helplessness. And whether a person has one child or twenty children, don't all parents feel like that sometimes? My husband and I led a mini parenting workshop last night to sixteen parents who were at different states of helplessness. And they thought that my husband and I were exempt from this feeling. But ALL parents live in a state of worry. We carry a HUGE burden. We are constantly stretched. We may or may not admit this out loud, but deep down, we know that we are sinners and very capable of failing as parents.

So, what to do? 

If we lean on the One who gave us our children, He will also provide us with all we need. If we rely solely on our own strength, we will grow ever weary, anxious, and resentful.

A few years back, I used an Etsy gift card to buy myself a necklace with a small arrow charm. At the time, I had just had my sixth child, and I needed the arrow to remind me that, 

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. 
Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!
Psalm 127:4-5

Now, Mica May's quote reminds me that it is time to wear that necklace again. I did not anticipate having a seventh or eighth child. But no matter. I can have twelve children and God's promises will never change. He is the one aiming my "arrows" at the bull's eye. My task as mom is to be the "bow", the one who points my children in the right direction. And with God's strong arm, pulling me back and stretching me (sometimes even more than I think I can bear), my arrows will fly far, high, and true.


Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Bug Lost and Found

For years now, I have been writing stories for my family members and friends. Stories, for me, are like paintings or photographs or songs. What I see and experience inspire me and move me to create something that attempts to capture that feeling. Many of my stories are directly influenced by the people in my life: my children make me laugh and remind me to imagine; my husband teaches me to see the world through God's eyes; my friends encourage me. So when I give a loved one the gift of a story, I am giving him or her a piece of myself.

Many years ago, I wrote four short stories as a Christmas present for my kids. Now, for the first time, I took the bold step of asking my talented sister to illustrate these stories so that others may enjoy them too. My new children's book took most of 2017 to rewrite, edit, lay out, illustrate, and design (and I added a new story too!) I am super-proud of this book, not only because it's a major project checked off my list, but because I want to shine my little candle in a world that seems to grow darker by the moment, especially for our children.

You can learn more about my new book by clicking on the link on the right. And here is a sneak peek at my sister's beautiful  and adorable watercolors! This book would be perfect for children ages 4-8.




Friday, December 22, 2017

The Ghost of Christmas Future

As I was contemplating my recent 'Scrooginess' (see Monday's post for the details), I remembered a short story I wrote a few years back. Since I don't often have the opportunity to share my fictional work with people, I said to myself, "Perfect! I'll post it on my blog!"

I hope you enjoy the story. And whatever your circumstances are right now, I pray that your Christmas will be overflowing with Joy and your New Year will be full of Hope.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


The Ghost of Christmas Future



It was like a Hollywood movie. 

But not.

I couldn’t help but scream like a banshee when I found the body–a crumpled, gray, hairy, bulky mass of a man huddled in one corner. Who would expect that a homeless man, trying to live another day, would instead die in my garage? It couldn’t have been that much warmer in there, and I didn’t even know how he got in. Maybe when I was pulling the garbage cans to the curb, he snuck in and hid. Which meant that he could have done so much more while in my house. I shuddered.

“Do you believe in ghosts?” I asked Ted, interrupting his rambling. Ted had dragged me out for after-work drinks. He insisted on clearing my head with a few beers.

“Ghosts? What do you mean?”

“Like, the story of Scrooge, like this man was some sort of spirit coming to warn me about my future.”

Ted sneered. “Nah, you were just a victim of circumstance. Just weird stuff. They’ll make a movie about you someday.”

I didn’t agree. First, the movie of my life would be so dull that even my mother wouldn’t want to watch it. Second, I couldn’t shake off the incident. My bubble of suburban tranquility had definitely been burst.

“Can I confess something to you, Ted?” I whispered, a tad more dramatically than I intended.

Ted’s eyes peeked over the brim of his glass.

“I haven’t been in my garage since that day.”

“Hey, I don’t blame you.”

Every lamp in my house was on when I returned home. I thought it would make me feel better to see warmth shining through my windows, instead of the usual blank stare of an empty house. 

I was wrong. I never knew that light could feel as cold as dark.

After a quick and boring ham sandwich, I turned on the television. 

Click, click, click, flip, flip, flip... nothing enticing except for the evening news. But that wasn’t worth paying attention to either: the bus drivers’ strike, some bad accident on the bridge, a homeless man dying in my garage...

I woke suddenly. I was sure I had heard my name. 

“...cracking down on homelessness in the suburbs...,” the voice on the television was saying.

That was it. A half a second of fame.

But this is what a celebrity must feel like, I thought. My life in moments, broadcasted by invisible waves to homes everywhere, everyone watching me, judging me…

That was not a good train to catch a ride on, because the next thought in my mind was that of the homeless man watching me, getting a sense of my schedule, waiting and waiting for the right time to run into my garage. Did he watch me through the window? Was he there for days, or weeks even? Did he get to know me, have imaginary conversations with me? Did he feel better dying in my garage than out on a street bench, like he wasn’t alone anymore? 

But he was alone. Very alone. Somewhere in the world was his mother, or his father, or at least his kindergarten classmates, and he still died all alone, with no one knowing until after the fact. And some day, I was going to die alone, like that man. 

Maybe I am Ebenezer Scrooge, I thought. After all, what did I have in my life besides work? Weekends were spent alone. Thanksgiving was spent eating a turkey sandwich and watching football. It was almost Christmas, and I had nothing in the house broadcasting that, not even a ‘Boy Scout Mistletoe’. They had come by, asking $5 for the little branch of greenery, but I had turned them away to save myself a few bucks. 

I went through the next day in a fog. It didn’t really matter, since most of my coworkers had already left for an extra day with their families. I felt pathetic. Tomorrow was Christmas Eve, and all I could think of doing was work. Why hadn’t this ever bothered me before? Was it because of this fog, this fog brought on by that homeless man? Or... had I been in a fog all along?

Ted came by my desk around 4:30.

“Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas to you too,” I replied. My words weren’t heart felt, but then, neither were his.

“We’re heading to my in-laws in the morning,” Ted said with scowl. 

“Well... uh... have a good time,” I said with a question mark at the end.

“Yeah, I’ll see you when we get back, have you over for New Year’s Eve or something.”

“Sure, New Year’s, sounds good,” I said.

Ted gave me a little wave and turned to go.

“Drive safely!” I shouted after him.

The skies started to pour down rain as soon as I said those words. 

I pulled out of the office parking lot at a snail’s pace. I could barely see the road in front of me, but I knew these streets. Still, somehow, I made a wrong turn. I stopped at the next intersection and tried to see the street sign. I didn’t recognize these houses. This whole neighborhood was foreign to me, “the other side of the tracks”, as my father would call it. But through the falling drops of water, I saw a light. Then another light. Then another. The rain fizzled to a drizzle as the windows of the homes around me became miniature movie screens, and my radio, the soundtrack as Bing Crosby’s mellow voice came on. 

I’m dream-ing of a white Christ-mas...”

And what I saw startled me. From what my father said about “those” people, I had always imagined that they were mean, unhappy, and grumpy. After all, what did they have to be happy about? Yet, here they were, happy. Happier than me. In one house, I saw a family decorating their Christmas tree together. The children were eagerly trying to hang all the ornaments on one branch, and the mother laughed as she took the ornaments one by one and rehung them higher on the tree. 

A light came on in another house. An older couple was sitting down to a late dinner. Soup and bread, it looked like. Their house wasn’t overly decorated, but there was a warmth in their light. 

I turned to look at the house across the way. The radio started playing “Jingle Bell Rock.” This house was full of activity. People–children and adults–were hanging garlands on the walls, lights around the windows, sparkling plastic snowflakes from the ceiling. It looked like they were getting ready for a party. But the house was small, in my opinion. 

If they put up any more decorations, there won’t be room for people, I chuckled to myself.

Which reminded me of the home Lucy and I had once shared. It was small–tiny–in my opinion. But Lucy insisted on inviting people over, especially around the holidays. I tried to remember what that little house looked like at Christmas. Lucy would have made it glow and sparkle. She always put the tree in a particular corner, and then she would... she would...

I couldn’t remember. I couldn’t remember what the house looked like at Christmas. I was rarely there. Lucy always tried to convince me to take a few more days off around Christmas, but I always insisted that we needed the money. This wasn’t that big of a deal, until one year.

“Phil, I feel like you don’t enjoy the house... you can’t enjoy the house. You worry about the roof that needs replacing, and the carpet getting stained, and the termites that might... someday... be in the walls...”

“What do you mean?” I interrupted. “I enjoy the house! I enjoy the yard!”

“You grumble even as you put the flowers in the dirt,” Lucy teased. “And you hate mowing the lawn.”

“Well, I wouldn’t hate yard work so much if I had a little help,” I hissed.

The words had rushed out of my mouth like a wild stampede. I couldn’t rein them in. Or the implication that came with them. That was when Lucy’s teasing yet pointed words melted into tears.

“Phil, why do you focus so much on what you don’t have?” she cried.

We weren’t talking about the house anymore. 

“Why can’t you see what you do have?”

We were talking about our son.

A car behind me honked. I had been staring into people’s windows for at least fifteen minutes. I shivered. I was becoming my homeless man.

When I finally found my way home, I was sapped. I slapped some peanut butter and jelly on some bread and crashed on the couch to watch TV. 

Click, click, click, flip, flip, flip... oh, not the news again. I settled on a classic, “A Wonderful Life,” but after a few scenes, I couldn’t take it anymore. That movie was definitely not my story. If I died tonight, life would go on like always. They’d find a new guy at work, they’d remove my dead body from this house and sell it to some unsuspecting family, and the money would go to... where would it go? Would Lucy get it?

The phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Phil, I heard about you on the news last night.” 

Though it’s been two years since we’ve talked, I recognized Lucy’s voice right away.

“Phil, are you okay?”

“Uh, yeah, I’m fine.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yeah, it wasn’t a big deal. I mean, it scared me, the man... finding his body scared me, but I’m fine.”

“Okay. I just wanted to make sure.”

There was silence. I didn’t know what else to say.

“Can I speak to Tim?” I finally asked.

Lucy was quiet. “He’s not here right now,” she answered hesitantly. “He’s out caroling with some friends.”

“Do you think I could see him... tomorrow, I mean? I mean, do you think he’d want to see me?”

I heard nothing for a few seconds.

“Why don’t you come for dinner?”

I became like a little boy at that invitation. My heart was pounding so fast that I almost forgot to ask what time. As soon as I hung up, I went to my room and looked through my closet. Nothing seemed good enough. I settled on a burgundy sweater and a green tie. No, no tie. Too hokey. No, yes tie. I wanted to look festive. Augh, I didn’t have a present. I glanced at my watch. What time did the 24-hour store close?

I scurried around my house like a squirrel. I started cleaning, even though no one was coming here. I felt... I felt like... I felt like the fog was lifting.

And as it lifted, I started remembering.

“If you’re so unhappy, why don’t you file for divorce?” I was yelling.

“I don’t want a divorce,” argued Lucy. “I just want to be together.”

“You’d rather be unhappily together than happily alone?” I shouted.

She nodded.

“That doesn’t make sense!”

All she could do was shrug.

“I love you, Phil,” she whispered resolutely.

It didn’t make sense to me then, but it did now. 

What a fool I’ve been. I had stopped taking the time, taking the time to see Lucy, forgetting that she was a subtle woman. When she was sad, her tears flowed, and when she was happy, her laugh rang, but in between the two, she was full of surprises. She literally stood her ground when she argued, until either the other person gave in or stomped off in a huff. When she was angry, she climbed a tree, just to have room to think, she told me. She did small, almost unseen tasks, like picking up the used paper towels on the floor of the movie theater’s restroom, or shelving the library books that people left on the tables.  

And, she was beautiful, but only if you took the time to find the beauty. I remember the first time I saw her–that is, really saw her. We had been friends for so long, all through our college years, and I had promised to take her out to dinner for her birthday. But that very afternoon, I had met a knock-out redhead at the library and just as easily forgotten my promise. That’s what I did, stood up one of my best friends to take a complete stranger to the movies.

And it wasn’t the first time. I disappointed Lucy almost as often as I followed through. She knew this about me. That was my excuse.

I tried to make light of the whole situation the next day.

“Lucy, this girl was gorgeous! I was so sure she was special!”

“And was she?” Lucy asked. She hadn’t smiled at all since I showed up at the cafĂ© where she was having coffee with a friend.

“Ha ha,” I laughed nervously, “well, no. She whined and complained about everything. First the popcorn wasn’t buttery enough, then the popcorn was too salty, then the seats were too close, the sound was too loud, the movie too slow, the...”

“So are you here only because you had no date for today?”

“No, Lucy!” My eyes pleaded with her friend for help. I got none. “No, I came to apologize!”

Lucy sighed. “Okay then, I’m listening.”

“I’m sorry I forgot about you on your birthday. I’m sorry I broke my promise.” I was surprised to find myself tearing up. “I know I treat you like you’re second best sometimes, but really, you’re not. You’re THE best. I’m the one who’s deficient. Please, forgive me.”

Lucy studied me. I held my breath.

“I climbed a tree this morning,” she said quietly.

I didn’t breath.

“And yes, I forgive you.”

And that was when I saw it–her beauty. Her hair was black and red from the setting sun, and her smile–it was contagious. But there was something else, something deeper...

When I finally released the air from my lungs, the word “Wow!” came out instead. 

Lucy laughed.

Her friend gave a quick nod and said, “Lucy’s pretty amazing. She sees you, but loves you anyway.”

To me, those simple words were the very definition of beautiful. They made me want to be a better man. And so, I took her out for her birthday dinner that night, and a month later, I asked Lucy to marry me.

But how could I have forgotten that time? All during the engagement, I was happy, carefree, soaring with the birds. I thought I would never come down. Lucy was a diamond, she was mine, and I threw her away. I stopped wanting to become a better man. It was too much work, too much pressure. I just wanted a break from the house, from Lucy, from Tim...

And then what did I do? Let my anger get the best of me. I called the lawyer in anger, filed the papers in anger, sat through every meeting in anger, packed up my things in anger. Then I continued to live in anger... this fog...

I arrived early to dinner, but that was a good thing, because it took me ten minutes to work up the courage to approach the house. When I finally made it to the front porch, I was rewarded by the most enticing aroma of honey ham. Music drifted through the closed window. I could see the tree lights twinkling through the gauzy curtain. The tree was in its usual corner. That helped me relax a little.

I knocked timidly on the door. Almost immediately, it opened.

My son was standing in front of me with a broad smile on his face. He was taller now, and though his Down’s Syndrome features had always made him look young and happy, there was something mature about his face, and his joy.

“Hi Dad! Come in!”

I stepped in and stuck my hand stiffly out to him. He shook it enthusiastically.

“Hi Tim. How are you?”

Tim didn’t seem to hear me. “Mom! Dad’s here!”

Lucy stepped into the hall. She gave me a small smile. “Hi Phil. Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas to you too,” I managed to say. I stuck my hand out to her too. “Uh, here’s a little something I got for you.”

I handed over the fruitcake. One minute here, and I already felt like an idiot.

“Thank you,” she said without a hint of disgust. “Come into the dining room. Dinner is nearly ready.”

She returned to the kitchen while Tim guided me to a seat at the small table. It was laid beautifully, but simply: white, Corningware plates, a red votive candle, a few branches of evergreen among the plates of potatoes, green beans, and rolls.

“Would you like some water?” Tim asked me.

“Yes, that would be nice,” I replied. I watched his figure go into the kitchen. He was my son, but not the son I remembered. The confused, uncontrollable boy had been replaced by a well-mannered, well-spoken young man. What happened while I was gone?

Tim came back with a pitcher of water, followed by his mother carrying a plate of ham.

“Okay, here we are!” Lucy declared.

She sat down on my left, Tim sat down on my right, and without hesitation they took my hands, bowed their heads, and prayed.

“...amen!” Tim finished. “Dad, let me serve you!”

I handed him my plate, still captivated by this familiar stranger in front of me.

When we all had plenty of food on our plates, we attempted to settle into a rhythm of awkward conversation. In between bites of the delicious food (Lucy had always been a star in the kitchen), we searched in vain for common ground.

Finally, with hardly a crumb left on my plate, I sat back. I tried to take it all in: Lucy, Tim, the lights, the sounds, the smells, the feeling of contentment that I had rarely allowed myself to feel.

My ears became aware of the choral music playing. “What’s this music?” I asked. 

“Handel’s Messiah,” Lucy said. “We’ve made it a tradition to go every year. Tim has learned nearly all the solos. His favorite is...”

“‘He shall feed his flock!” Tim said in one great rush.

“Tim, remember that it’s not kind to interrupt,” Lucy said gently.

“Sorry, Mom,” Tim said. “My favorite is ‘He shall feed his flock,’” he reiterated to me.

“Have you ever been to the Nutcracker?” I asked him.

“No, I’d like to though,” Tim replied with a grin.

“We can’t usually afford the tickets, not even to a local production,” Lucy explained.

“Oh, maybe next year, we could...” I started to say. My cheeks grew hot. What was I assuming?

Lucy read my thoughts. “Phil, remember the year we volunteered as ushers and saw the Nutcracker for free?”

I laughed in spite of myself. “Yes, and remember how we got so confused in the dark that we led that couple to the wrong balcony?”

Lucy chuckled back at me.

Tim glanced from his mom to me, and back again. “Mom, tell me the story! Tell me the story!” he begged.

And all through dessert, we took turns telling Tim stories from Christmases past, stories that Tim had never heard, stories that I had nearly forgotten myself. I found myself opening mental doors that I had not opened in years. And with every story that Lucy shared, curtains were drawn back, letting in the sunlight. Her words brushed the cobwebs away. My mind’s eye started to wake up.

Then, suddenly, it was nine o’clock. I didn’t want to leave, but I was afraid to stay. This magic was not my doing, and I knew that I could just as easily turn back into an ugly pumpkin.

“Thank you for dinner, Lucy,” I said as I pushed back the chair. “It was the best meal I’ve had in years. But I should go.”

Tim stood. “Dad, wait.” He hurried out of the room.

I took that moment to look at Lucy, to try to see her again. She was stacking the plates, her fingers nimble as they grabbed the knives and forks. I made note of the tired lines on her face, the smile that played on her lips, and the ease of her shoulders. The silver in her dark hair glistened like gold thread in the flickering candle light. She was more beautiful than before. And she had forgiven me. I don’t know how many trees she had to climb, but I could see that plainly. I wouldn’t be here otherwise. 

Be a better man, I heard in my head.

“Here, let me help you with that.”

“Oh, thank you Phil. You can just put them in the sink.”

Tim came back then. He bounced a little as he waited for my hands to be free.

“Okay, Tim,” I said, wiping my hands. 

“Merry Christmas, Dad,” he said.

I was handed a small, unadorned box. Inside, peeking through layers of white tissue paper, was a multi-faceted sphere of blown glass. Its iridescent swirls of orange, yellow, and gold caught the light as I held it up to admire it.

“I didn’t have time to go the store. I hope you don’t mind getting something used,” Tim said.

“No, I understand, I didn’t expect you to get me anything.”

Lucy placed a hand on my arm. “No, what he means is, it’s his favorite. His favorite ornament,” Lucy sighed. “He wants you to have it.”

“It’s from Italy,” Tim chimed in. “It reminds me of a star.”

I stared at the gift. I couldn’t say a word. When I looked up and saw Tim’s face, I understood–truly understood.

“He’s forgiven you,” Lucy said softly. “He was very hurt and angry when you left, but he was able to push past the anger and pain and find love.”

I nodded. “He’s subtle, like his mother.”

Lucy gave me a quizzical look. 

“Tim sees people,” I said, “but loves them anyway.”

That made Lucy smile. And as always, her smile was contagious.

When I returned home, I hung the ornament in the only place I could, on my coat rack. Then I watched it spin on its string as I slowly slid the tie off my neck. Though it was small, the ball scattered the lamp light and made the room look magical. It brought back the smell of the dinner, the sound of Lucy’s laughter, and the feeling of the hug my son gave me as we said our good nights.

But Tim’s star needed a better home, a safer home. I was afraid that in its fragility, it might be knocked by something and shattered. I quickly glanced around. The wall above my mantel had been vacant for too long.

As I retrieved my hammer from the garage, I thought one more time, one last time, about the homeless man. The spirit had come to warn me. I had to thank him. Because something new was glowing in me, a small ember that wanted to grow and fill my whole being.

I think it’s called... hope.