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I asked for strength, you gave me a feather.

December 9, 2015

 

 

Have you ever just wanted Christmas to just go away?

Do the songs, the lights, the parties, the countless times of hearing the phrase “Merry Christmas” level an expectation and weight on your shoulders that make it near impossible to even get out of bed?

I struggled every day that week with the fact that I didn’t want to drag out the decorations. I couldn’t justify the cost of a tree so I had decided we would do without that, which didn’t break me up at all. As “mom” I knew I had to pull myself through this darkness, this funk, and bring on Christmas as best as I could, but my gosh was it an everyday struggle.

A $10 coupon came in the mail for the tree sales in town, then my kids were talking with anticipation of what night we would go get our tree. Pull your bootstraps up woman! Put on that smile and know it’s not about you, it’s about them.

It was the first year into Hope and Friendship. I had established a reputation of wanting to be told of persons in the community who could use an act of kindness in the simplest form. Brownies, flowers, a pan of pasta, a card stating, “You’re in the thoughts, heart and prayers of a friend.”

I was told of a grandmother who was raising her grandson. They now lived alone. Just a month prior the young boy had found his mother dead of an overdose in her bed. This grandmother had suffered so much loss: her daughter, her son killed by a stray bullet in Chicago, her husband from cancer and her mother whom had held her head up when she couldn’t bear to do it on her own. I learned so much about her and from her as I sat with her often for tea. I didn’t have much in my wallet but gave her whatever I could whenever I could. She needed a hand every once in awhile and her grandson needed someone else to hear his voice and his stories. As Hope and Friendship grew in numbers of hands and feet, we visited her home so many times lending her help, fellowship, and hope.

We decided to go pick out the tree after dinner that night. As I walked through the “forest” in the Chipain’s parking lot I fought back tears. I just couldn’t pull myself out of this darkness. It had been such a difficult and painful three years with battles, heartache, trials and life changes beyond what some experience in their lifetime.   My heart was broken, my spirit, somehow still alive, was weakening. My mind and heart was constantly on my mom and how I could help her through her first holiday season as a grieving widow. These trees were only a reminder of what was, and who and what has now become the past.

They were one of the very first families that I was blessed to be of help to. Such poverty caused by incredible misfortune. An accident when he was 17 left him with Hepatitis B from a bad pint of blood during the transfusion that ironically saved his life. The years had been so cruel to both of them, liver failure, life and death constantly battling outside of his door, him being unable to work and her not being able to keep a job for long due to being his only transportation to and from doctors and hospital visits. They didn’t have more than a dollar to their name but they would be the first to tell you they had enough to get by. I was just taken by her spirit and her faith. I loved talking to her. She had a magic about her that made you forget that their situation was as dismal as it was. The light within her simply glowed through her smile and her eyes and her contagious passion. I couldn’t help but smile when I was with her. I truly considered her my friend, as she did me. After a failed transplant, and a second transplant putting him in even worse health, the strain was too much on my friend. I was busy with work and hadn’t spoken to her in a week or more. I called her as I was driving to check in. She sounded so tired, I knew she never slept but she never seemed to wear down until now. She told me she was ok. I asked if there was anything I could do, if they needed anything. She said she was embarrassed to ask but did I have a gift certificate to the thrift store because they were in such need of socks and underwear. I told her I would get her a Target gift card and she could go get new socks and underwear for her daughter, her husband and herself. I told her I’d get there within the next day or so and catch up with her. I told her to hang in there and get some rest and know she was loved. She told me she loved me and was so grateful for me and all I had done for them. I never was able to give her the certificate because she died from heart failure that next day. The strain of a life of poverty and stress had worn her heart out. Her father gave me her Bibles, one is in my office, one is under my car seat. Over the four years we were friends, with help of many here in the community, I was blessed to be a conduit of much help to her and her family. I know she would tell me that I gave her help, unconditional love and hope but I know the truth, she gave me more. She taught me that in the darkest of storms there is still this incredible light that can shine through our smile and our eyes when we allow it. No matter how dark it seems. Let it shine for as long as it is able to.

I cut the strings from the tree that was tied to the top of our car and wrestled it through the door, up the steps and into the tree stand, after many a failed attempt. I cut the netting that held the branches up and let them fall into place. When I opened the box of decorations it seemed as if all of the memories were trapped inside that box rushed to escape and fill the room. I felt guilty knowing I should’ve been feeling this rush of happiness spending this moment making memories with my two beautiful blessings but I was struggling. I said a prayer. I asked God to help make me stronger, help me be a better support to my mother, and a better mother to my two children. I needed to focus on the beauty of the season, not the pain within it.

They lived just around the corner. The mom was the most amazingly strong woman I have ever met. In her past was abuse, loss, pain, struggles, and set back after set back. She laughed. I loved the way she laughed at all of it. It was as if she was saying “Bring it on Life! I can handle what you are about to shovel on me.”   She was a young widow with mouths to feed. She was the definition of pulling up your bootstraps and not taking time to feel sorry for yourself. I learned much from her. She wanted to give her kids more but was forced to teach them priorities and hard cut values. She worked two jobs and had hopes of enrolling in school. She told me that her eldest, her daughter wanted this Gap coat that was $100. She told her that was not possible. Someday maybe she would be able to afford that but not this day. I received a call that someone had bags of clothing to donate. I thanked them and told them of the thrift store in downtown Lemont. I was told they would not be able to do that because they were “quite busy”, I could go pick the bags up from their porch. I stewed on this. My hot-headed self said “no way”! I eat, sleep and live busy and I don’t have time! My “wanting to help the world” self said just go do it.   I put the bags in my car and decided to go by their house first, telling mom go through what is in here and whatever fits keep and I’ll take the rest to the thrift store. Keeping up with the growth of the kids and the cost of clothes is a struggle of its own for so many households. She called me that night.

“You’re not going to believe this.”

“Try me”, I said.

“The coat was in one of the bags.”  

“What coat?”

“The Gap coat just like the one she wanted.” I could hear her laughing through the receiver.

I was reminded that I need to listen to the latter voice more and quiet the former one.

I knew from this and so many other encounters with His hands at work right here, right now that I am where I am supposed to be and only here because He finds me worthy to be apart of this amazing gift of this unconditional love and grace to His sparrows.

Each time my father was hospitalized, to endure his week of chemo treatment, the nurses would ask him to tell them what he was going to enjoy doing when he got home. One particularly bad day the nurse asked him what he was looking forward to doing and he didn’t hesitate one minute, he struggled with the strength to talk but clearly and assuredly told her he was going to sit on his back deck and enjoy “his” birds. He had feeders and a bird bath and loved becoming part of their presence when he became lost in their activity and beauty.

I had the job that would start this tree decorating process, my task to make sure the tree was aglow with strings of light before we could move to the next step of hanging the ornaments. After I finished the tree simply glowed with beauty. I love seeing Christmas lights. They cast such a beautiful glow when the room is dark. We each carefully took ornaments from the box and hung them throughout the tree. As I was putting an ornament on the tree something caught my eye deep in the heart of the tree. I couldn’t believe what I saw and blinked my eyes feeling it must be foggy vision. I moved my hand toward it expecting it to vanish and just be my odd imagination, but it didn’t and it wasn’t.

It was a feather.

A feather unlike any I have seen. I pulled it out and showed my kids. You could’ve painted a picture of that moment because we were frozen in that very presence of a reminder that Christmas is the season for hope. I needed to feel hope, they needed that reminder that Papa was with us just as I did.

I prayed for strength and you gave me a feather.

I responded to that offering of strength and hope by giving in to the voice that had been reverberating in my head for two weeks. I had now, begrudgingly become aware of loneliness and pain during a season that I had only seen as joyful in the past. My eyes were opened to the fact that there were many others who dreaded the arrival of Christmas. I would go on to host a Christmas dinner, in a church in our community, cooked by donations from any who were able, and shared at a table with anyone who wanted to join me and my mom. All who might be in financial, physical or emotional need of this gift of grace and compassion offered by friends for friends were welcome.

The first Hope and Friendship Christmas Dinner, Dec 25th 2005, was fueled by a feather and the realization that when I focus on being a conduit of light for others I will walk through my own dark times and emerge better for it.

That moment is completely etched in my memory and will never leave. In fact it came to me while singing a Christmas song at church this past Sunday. I have been struggling with some heaviness once again and with the task of forcing myself to decorate and to listen to Christmas music, just as I had been during that Christmas.  The image of the feather came to me.   With that image came the faces of so many that I have met from that first Christmas Dinner to today. So many that I would not have met, would not have reached out to, would not have been blessed to be a conduit of assistance to had I not had to walk through the darkness of that most difficult Christmas season.

It is okay to be sad. It is okay to shed tears and to have moments that you just plead to be lifted from.

Just know you need to keep moving through those moments. Let them touch you but not envelope you. Let them strengthen you not break you. And most of all my hope for you is that you let those moments inspire you to allow even that smallest of glimmer of light within you (there IS light within every one of you) shine and cast a glow enabling you to see your way to walk through the darkness.

Wishing you peace, love and strength through this Christmas Season and through the New Year,

Terri

http://www.hopeandfriendshipfoundation.com

 

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