It’s one week to Christmas and I would like to give thanks and praise to all God’s living angels who have reminded me the spirit of the season. This column is dedicated to a few people in my life who have caused a chain reaction through their unselfish acts which light up their world with love and good will.
My first dedication is to my sister, Lisa Hallberg, who received a financial bonus one day last week at work and immediately donated that bonus to others. Lisa scooped up every Salvation Army gift tag that was left on the company Giving Tree, ran to Walmart and purchased each child the exact game, toy or bicycle that they wanted and needed. Lisa is the “George Bailey” of our extended family, and is always thinking of others before herself. Only the strongest of characters is willing to sacrifice their own need for financial security to help the greater good. Some of these folks are just so darned burning with inner strength, they astonish us. My sister is one of these people. A sub-dedication goes to Holland for engineering the Salvation Army Giving Tree in their office. The team that gives gifts together, outlives hardships together!
My second dedication is to my friend Sue McCurdy, who took the time to write me a letter (on paper! remember paper?) to reflect on the inner light of my children, and encouraging me to continue to write through the guidance of an author we both admire. Sue is a friend who was the Children’s Ministry Coordinator at our church, Elmhurst Presbyterian Church, and she retired recently. I have been feeling very sad lately that I had not taken advantage of the opportunities afforded to me to introduce my children to the teachings of Jesus Christ from an earlier age. But our community is rich with people who pick up and nourish our children when we are weak. For Sue to take time to write and remark on some of our kids’ strengths means the world to me. She reminds me that God is always there for us, seeing our goodness, forgiving our flaws, even when we sometimes forget Him. A sub-dedication goes to the incredibly wise author of the book Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis, Lauren F. Winner, who gave a lecture at the recent Writing for Your Life Spiritual Writers’ Conference. The conference was life changing in the way you arrive somewhere and say “aha! THESE are my people!”. Encouragement is catalyst for growth that is immeasurable.
My final dedication is to those who are grieving the death of a loved one this Christmas, yet still choose fellowship with others as they endure the deepest loss imaginable. It is easy to make wholesome choices when your needs and desires are satisfied. It is more challenging to love others when your deepest needs and wants are not met. Under these conditions, feeling the ravenous hunger of our souls, it can seem impossible to engage. Even through grief, these living angels continue to reach out to their children, grandchildren, or extended family and friends, and invite them to sit together, have a meal, or simply take a walk together. People who are conflicted through connection are special indeed. These walking wounded have lost their loved ones, but summon the inner strength required to sit in a painfully intimate place with another human being to rejoice, recognizing they are unable to hug the person who died. To me, these heavenly humans are reflective of God’s love in the way they choose to connect with others no matter the cost. This act of love is a gift which money cannot buy, but which brings inner peace because it connects multiple points of light.
Reviewing these dedications causes me to realize the value of our human connection, and how each of us longs to love and be loved, to give and to receive. I thank all of the people who are choosing to connect with others when they could just as easily submit to hopelessness, negativity and despair. All of the people I mentioned are doing what they can with their two hands, their one beating heart, and their innumerable gifts from God to express His love to others in their own unique way.
I hope you are able to enjoy your connections this holiday season. If you are wondering how you can do that, I will give you my favorite advice, and the only “secret sauce” to my parenting and friendship style. Though I have failed as a parent to actively engage our children to connect with youth ministry from a very early age, (and in countless other ways), I did have a strength that is my unique gift from God. I always encourage our children and our friends with this phrase: “Follow your heart.”
If you aren’t sure how to follow your heart, then come to a quiet place in your day on a regular basis. Ask God to show you the way. Be specific. Be general. Clasp your hands together. Lay your palms up on your lap. Just be still and know that He is there. Get to know Him. These moments will feed your heart and soul with your deepest need to love and be loved. From there, I can assure you that your connections will be fueled with the energy required to love others just as they are. And to love yourself just as you are.
So, my friends, I encourage you to follow your heart this season and experience the energy of connecting the light of your inner fire with others. If you have someone in your life you would like to dedicate this message to, please tag them or share. Your perspective of their goodness is a shining light.
And please do join us at Elmhurst Presbyterian Church for our Christmas Eve Service at 5:00p.m. at 367 S. Spring Road, in Elmhurst, IL. Our gifted Music Ministry is led by Susan Smentek, and includes the talented vocalist Gayle Bisesi, along with many other outstanding musical artists. As we join together, we will each have the opportunity to light our own candle before turning to our neighbor to give light to them.