Christmas

This Season, What to Give When You Have Nothing to Give

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Do you feel a bit bereft of Christmas Spirit this year? Or—-just wondering what you can give that would be meaningful? This is for you. First, a story.

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When I was 12 I went reluctantly to a birthday party. Karen was two years younger than me and I didn't know her that well, but there were few parties in this tiny town and there would be cake. Which meant sugar, and we didn't have much of either at my house.

         We sat around the kitchen table, six of us. After the birthday serenade, I ate my cake slowly, letting the frosting melt in my mouth. Karen began tearing open her presents. I stopped eating my cake. The gifts were lavish, to my eyes. Model horses, a dollhouse, toys from department stores. The kind of toys we didn't have. I wasn't jealous—-these were things for other people, not for us, but I sat in dread. And then--there it was, my present. It was a book, a fifty cent paperback I had just received from Scholastic Books. It was meant for me---a book about a horse. My family had no money for a present and I had nothing else to give her. Karen’s family wasn't rich but they owned the local store. I knew it was a pathetic present, almost an insult. But I had one more thing to give—-I had a dollar. That was all the money I had right then, one limp wrinkled dollar bill and I had no way of making more. I placed the dollar in the middle of the book. I had wrapped my entire fortune in newspaper, tied a ribbon I had found somewhere around it all and brought it to the party.

Karen held the book indifferently, flipped through it, saw the dollar, "Thanks Leslie" she said perfunctorily and it was over. But I felt the heat of shame flush my face. It was the worst gift at the table, just like at every birthday party I went to. And--I had given it not out of generosity, but out of fear and embarrassment.

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 In this season of giving. what if you have little to give?

 What if you're sad, dealing with the death of someone you loved?

What if you have few resources to buy gifts this year?

What if you're not jingly with merriment this month of wintry dark and cold?

What if you don't decorate for Christmas this year at all?

What if you're a tiny bit resentful for the thousand things you're supposed to carry off this holiday season for everyone else?

What if some of your gifts are given out of obligation and avoidance of shame rather than love?

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That makes you just like everyone else. And if you’re on the other end, if you’re a Christmas magician and a godly fairy-mother, this is for you, too. Because these are three things we ALL need this season. These are three things we all can give this season:

 

*Give the truth.

Last night a dear friend called and asked how I was. "Kinda lousy, actually," I told her. I told her why. I told her about not sleeping, about the rain and the dark, the book, teenagers, the season. I had to say it. It costs too much to pretend. She heard me and spoke back. I was not alone.

 I'm not telling you to cry on every shoulder you see. I'm not telling you to wallow in self-pity. But allow yourself to speak the truth of your struggle to your nearest friends. Pema Chodron writes, "How did I get so lucky to have my heart awakened to others and their suffering?" Let trustworthy hearts be awakened. Truth in all its forms is a gift. Friendships don’t survive without it.

 

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*Give Stories.

No matter how old they are, tell your children stories of when they were young. Let them love the stranger who is their younger self and let them see your love for her too. Tell your own growing-up stories---about Christmas, about school, the memories that make you laugh. Without family stories, we are exiles in the present, marooned without context, without history. Even sad stories can contain beauty and comfort. Pass it on. When there is only silence about the past, we wander, homeless searching for somewhere to belong. Giving your children a heritage is giving them a home.




*Give Generous Words Generously

No matter your bank account, no matter if you live in a travel trailer at an RV park or a mansion on the mountains, you possess something priceless: the power and the ability to speak even the dead back to life.  You know the words we wait our whole lives to hear. Maybe these are words you yourself have not heard. Don't make people wait as you have had to wait. Tell them now:

"I love you."  

"You're amazing."  

"You're such a good father."  

"You're an incredible son."

 "I'm sorry." 

"You're the most caring person I know."

"You're so beautiful: outside-in and everywhere."

"I'm so proud of you."

"I forgive you. Will you forgive me?"

 "I'm always here for you."

*And, there’s a fourth. Maybe the most important:

GIVE the reason for the hope that is within you, especially if that hope is Jesus.

When we do these things, we’re doing something that echoes that first Christmas: we’re giving a touch of Jesus.

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This year, in this space, I hope I have done this for you, friends? I have tried—-To speak the truth, the truth of my own life and struggles, and more essentially, the truths of God; to Tell Stories that help us all find home, and to speak Generous Words, to let you know you are heard and seen and loved.

And, remarkably, you have done the same for me.

I thank you, I thank you from a holey and grateful heart.

 

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What did I miss? What else can we give, though we are poor in purse or heart? 

 

 

Of Swamp Monsters, Men and a Baby God: A Christmas Story

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I am shocked to discover it is already the Christmas season. We have managed to avoid it thus far in our long far travels. While most are deluged with the relentless avalanche of Rudolf and Frosty, we've been underwater swamped---In the Louisiana swamps, beyond the reach of Christmas cheer, where holiday ads don’t play and Santa cannot sleigh, thank God.

We took a boat, five of us, into the Honey Island Swamp for an afternoon. It was creepy, haunting and beautiful, this swamp, twenty miles long and seven miles wide, considered the least altered river swamp in the U.S.  The labyrinth of cuts, bayous, ditches and rivers was astounding, circling us ever deeper into an eerie world. Alligators abound here, and herons, ducks, nutria, deer, raccoons, And people. As we chugged past their stilted houses, I imagined them with soggy webbed feet, with bedraggled hair and scraggly beards like Spanish moss. 

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A monster also lives here--the Honey Island Swamp Monster. Reports and sightings date back to 1963. There's even film footage and casts of footprints. He is reported to be a two-legged seven foot tall, extraordinarily hairy creature with yellow eyes and a four-toed foot who wafts the disgusting smell of rotting flesh everywhere he slumps. One of the origin stories, my favorite, is of a turn-of-the-century traveling circus riding a train that derailed in the swamp. All the animals escaped. The Chimpanzees mated with the alligators and somewhere along this fleet evolutionary tale some homo sapien got mixed in. 

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Ahhh, don't we love our monsters? We want them: Bigfoot, Yeti, King Kong, The Fouke monster, the Loch Ness monster, the Swamp monster.

We want something big, hairy, scary, wild.

We want something beyond us, wiser, stronger, native

                   who slinkily  instinctively navigates the swamps and fields.

We want a creature we can't kill off, who has survived us, our guns and human wasteful ways.

We want a creature lurking in the dark. We want to be afraid; we don’t want to be alone.

We want to know we don’t know all there is to know.

 We must have mystery. We must have monsters. 

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Maybe it’s easier to believe in them than Christmas. What is this story?

An unknown girl in a backward town played host to the holy ghost?

The fierce untamable God came near, came tame and mild, as an infant child?

That God squalled for his mothers’ milk, wore diapers and a peasant’s rag?

That he grew and healed the dying, wholed the sick, sang the mute, taught the truth?

And all this story to end in a gory death on a cross to take our place? 

God born for all to die for all to set all free, at no cost?

 

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 So many won't believe it. They say instead,

"Who can bear or believe such a myth, such luck, such a god, such light?

Give us back our swamp,  our night, our glorious fear. 

 We’re more at home here."   

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 "Light came into the world, but people loved darkness instead of the light . .."

But I do not give up hope, that some even this Christmas will see the light that shines for them . . ..

 

No Room in the (Holiday) Inn?

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Oh Christmas! Last night I managed to string up one set of lights—the only holiday sparkle yet to hit my house. I’m sure one angel somewhere is clapping. I write this from bed, nursing a nasty cold caught on the long flight home last week. 

When I got home, I found packages awaiting. One from a dear friend who suddenly broke off our friendship and left town, without explanation some dozen years ago. Now this Christmas gift with no note attached. I am confused all over again, missing her, hurt. 

Throughout this holy month my email has been haunted by a sister in Christ. She heard my Focus on the Family broadcast on forgiving my father and after a strange inquisition has determined my view of forgiveness is “unbiblical.” She believes we are only to forgive those who express repentance first. Ah, the terrible danger of the unmeasured mercies of God! (She is right----this forgiveness IS dangerous!) She feels God-appointed to correct my theology and is relentless in her pursuit of me. 

None of this has instilled much holiday spirit, you know? We’re all such a mess. Where is our “silent night”? Why aren’t our hearts like the dear “little town of Bethlehem” quietly and plaintively waiting for a savior? Why are we fighting one another? Is there any room for us in the (Holiday) Inn?

When I went to Bethlehem just before Christmas a few years ago, I visited the Church of the Nativity. Here I would find peace and good will! I would see the beauty of a people gathered from around the world to worship Him. 

But the oldest church in the world was in chaos. The enormous basilica was under renovation. Scaffolding crosshatched the interior, obscuring the astonishing pillars, the ancient mosaic floors. Undeterred, people from all over the world stood patiently in line, filing past police stationed there to keep the peace. I, too, stood and watched and followed. All had come for this: to step down into the grotto, to kneel and lean into a tiny cavern where there was barely room for a single body. There, a silver star adorned the floor, marking the place where many people believe Mary gave birth to Jesus.


On this day, probably like many days, a tour guide stood outside the room, pushing people through with shouts: “That’s enough! You go! Next! Next in line!” as men and women took their turn. Each one knelt to fit into the tiny space, flashed a photo of the star on the floor, rubbed an arm on its silvery surface or swept a scarf across it while bodies pressed before and behind. The air was thick and damp. One elderly woman in a headscarf lingered in her worship a few seconds too long. “That’s enough! Too long! You get out!” the tour guide yelled at her before impatiently waving the next person in.

When I emerged, stumbling, from the grotto, I heard the glorious buzz of French, Polish, German, Russians as groups marveled over the basilica, but then above it all, a shout came, “Stop! Stop talking! You!” I spotted a policeman in a distant corner, gesturing to the tour guides. The chorus of voices continued, unfazed. He tried again, louder this time, “A service is beginning. Stop now or I’ll kick you all out!” Above his voice and the tourists’ mumbling, the drone of chanting began over in the Orthodox sanctuary.

What a mess! This church is occupied by police and six denominations that operate their own separate realms of this contested cathedral, all eager for a claim to the birthplace of Christ. Sometimes there is peace between them all—sometimes not. The police have broken up brawling priests on occasion.

The day wasn’t over. Near the end, the guide unexpectedly took us to a glistening souvenir shop. It wasn’t on our itinerary. He smiled and rubbed his hands and urged us all to shop ’til we dropped. “It’s all on sale—a 20 percent discount, just for you!” he said with a greedy wink. Two men approached us grinning widely, ready to usher us to the cash register. Minutes later, most in my group left the shop empty-handed. The well-dressed owner, running out of quarry, approached me and began to plead: “You must support us! You simply have to buy something here!”

 

It was not the happy day I imagined in Bethlehem. I found no peace on that small piece of earth, I found no silent moment, no light shining from dark streets—only shoving and shouting.


But maybe this is hopeful. Was Bethlehem so very different that sacred day? Because of the census, everyone was returning to his hometown and the hotelkeepers were raking it in. The restaurants were overfilled. Every family rented out whatever room they had and charged too much. The noise, the dirt, the animal dung on sandals—everyone too busy making money and trying to get ahead. They paid no thought to a baby born in the hay that night. It was all an unholy mess.

Like me, right now. Maybe like you too. I’ll never be as quiet or still as I want to be at Christmas. I won’t make everything clean and beautiful. People will continue to send me strange packages and haranguing emails which I will not always respond to graciously. There will be dirty rooms and impatient shouts. There will be too many people at the wrong time and not enough at the right time. We’ll try to profit from the season, selling our own wares—and we’ll spend too much. My attempts to create a cathedral of worship for Jesus will likely be pathetic.

 

 

But Jesus already knows all of this, and in the end, everything will be all right. Because this is exactly the kind of place He chose to be born. This is exactly the kind of people He chose to be born among. These are exactly the kind of people He was born to save. And we are exactly the kind of people who need saving still.

We don’t have to clean it all up or perfect it first. We don’t have to “fix” other people. We make room for the season in our own life and heart. 

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

We kneel. 

And enter in. 


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Friends, would you help me bless a few of the "Invisible Ones" I wrote about last post?  Do you know someone who doesn't know how beloved they are? Do you know someone who won't get much attention, who maybe won't get a gift, who is alone, or sick or wondering if God even exists, because they are so blinded by need??  Would you write and tell me about this person and send along their address to me? I can't send to all but would be honored to send one of my Wild Harvest gift boxes of salmon, jam, chocolate and love to those that I can.  Please email me:leslieleylandfields@gmail.com.   Thank you so very much.  

Update! Thanks to all who sent in a name and a story. SO thankful for your help. But Sadly, I'm already over my limit. If you know one of these dear ones, and if you are able, perhaps you could give them a card, a flower, a hug? I'll be on the lookout for the unseen with you in my own town.  Love to you all,  Leslie


3 Ways to Save Christmas Today--And,Winners!



Just now (yes, JUST now!) the doorbell rings and I hear terrible shouting. My husband is yelling something I can't understand but it sounds like a crisis.  Fire? Flood? It's 9 am and still dark . ... what could have happened? I come running downstairs and---it's my son, who isn't coming home for Christmas. Standing there! Who has been traveling in Europe and who was going to spend the holidays with his girlfriend's family (Ahh, that was all a trick!) He's here!! In the flesh!  Smiling, grinning, while we dance around him with joy.

This is one way to save Christmas. This is not what I planned to write this morning.  I wish I could send a beloved son or daughter to every door!! I know how many are alone over the holidays, how many children don't come home (my daughter will be in El Salvador)---at all. How far-flung families are . .. how many relationships are jagged and bleeding, and homecomings are far far off . ... 





 I can't send anyone else's long gone son or daughter to your door---but there IS something I can bring to your door today, now. Three other ways to save Christmas. 

(Do I need to explain why holidays need saving? SO many reasons! Here's just one: I think I should be more holy, more spiritual during these days, but ironically, I'm so busy I spend less time in prayer and worship. Maybe the same happens to you.)

 I want to share with you now 3 things that have opened my heart and saved my Christmas this year. 


*Give your Ears Song

Leonard Cohen's haunting "Hallelujah" has entranced the world. But this version celebrates not brokenness and disillusion, but Christmas healing. 




Hallelujah
Words and music by Cloverton.
(with a few adaptions by Leslie [poetry+grammar police]))

 I‘ve heard about this baby boy
Who’s come to earth to bring us joy
And I just want to sing that song to you.
It goes like this, the fourth the fifth, 
the minor fall, the major lift,
With every  breath I’m singing hallelujah. 

 The couple came to bethlehem
Expecting child, they searched the inn
To find a place for you were coming soon.
There was no room for them to stay,
So in a manger filled with hay
God’s only son was born, O hallelujah!

The shepherds left their flocks by night
To see this baby wrapped in light
The host of angels led them all to you.
It was just as the angel  said,
You’ll find him in a manger bed,
Immanuel Our savior, hallelujah!

A star shone bright up in the east.
To Bethlehem, the wise men three
Came many miles and journeyed long for you.
They  found the place where you were.
Their frankincense, gold  and  myrrh
They gave to you  and cried out Hallelujah!

 I know you came to rescue me
This baby boy would grow to be
A man who’d  one day die for me and you
My sins would drive the nails in you
That rugged cross was my cross too
Still every breath you drew was Hallelujah!



*Give your Heart Fresh Astonishment:



















Let the Stable Still Astonish

Let the stable still astonish:
Straw-dirt floor, dull eyes,
Dusty flanks of donkeys, oxen;
Crumbling, crooked walls;
No bed to carry that pain,
And then, the child,
Rag-wrapped, laid to cry
In a trough.

Who would have chosen this?
Who would have said: "Yes,
Let the God of all the heavens and earth
be born here, in this place." ?

Who but the same God
Who stands in the darker, fouler rooms of our hearts
and says, "Yes, let the God 
of Heaven and Earth 
be born here ----

         in this place."


   -----Leslie Leyland Fields














*Give Your Prayers to the Persecuted


It is never enough for us to receive. We aren't whole and complete without giving, without lightening another person's load. It's what we all want to do---but we falter, hesitate. How to do this? Here is one simple life-changing way. Pray for the persecuted. In this new year, go to I Commit to Pray  once a week, (more if you can or are able) and post prayers for those who are suffering for their faith in Christ.  Read prayers from people all over the world. Just words? Are words enough? You KNOW how God answers prayers on your behalf. He will do the same with our prayers for others. The God who Speaks has asked us this, to "Remember the prisoners as though in prison with them and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body.  (Heb. 13:3)



Who knows where this will lead?  We may be astonished at what God will do for our brothers and sisters---and for us.

Thank you all for your presence here. You bless me every week. You astonish me every week. 

               *       *           *         *          *          *

Here, at the last, another way my Christmas is saved: Sending out stuff to wonderful readers.

For Christianity Today  (I've written some by email. I'm hoping to reach the rest of you here!) If your name is here, would you  contact me with your mailing address+email? Send by email to leslieleylandfields@gmail.com

Holly B.
Ann V.
Diane M.
Michelle N.
Barb W.
Holly M.
Jenny A.
Stephanie K.
Ro E.
Catherine (left a comment on last post)
Judy (left a comment on the last post)
mongupp

Gift Box:

Sandra R. 
Ohiocpa