God's Love,

  • God with Skin On

    blogpic GodintheHelpersA Reflection on John 1:1-18 for the New Year

    Pernicious Amnesia- that’s what my favorite seminary professor called it – we have a case of pernicious amnesia. Verse 10 of John 1 says, He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.

    The world did not know the Word. Pernicious amnesia - how can we forget where we came from? How do we forget we came from God, forget who we are and whose we are?

    We love the story of the self-made man or woman, the rugged individualism of our culture, the pull yourself up from your boostraps, mentality as if any person came into being of their own free will and grew up without the intimate participation of dozens, if not hundreds of other people.

    The new year is a time of special amnesia—we put on our Nike trainers, we have our Starbucks in hand, and we’ve got our apps to track our fitness, our to do lists, our sleep, our job, our schedules, our kids and commitments - we’ve got the world by the tail and we’re going to whip 2016 into shape.

    Well, we may work hard, and that can be a wonderful thing and result in great outcomes, but none of us came into the world and got to today by the sheer force our will.
    • We do not exist of our own will or merit—none of us willed our life into being;
    • We do not create the air we breathe, our body’s ability to live, move, act and think'
    • We did not participate in the creation of the environment in which we will live—the oxygen that keeps us alive, the soil beneath our feet, the trees that shade us or the miracle of how a tiny seed becomes the wheat or the fruit we eat.

    It’s so easy to forget these basic truths about our very existence. I can pray in the morning and by lunch I’ve forgotten that my life is created and rooted in a power much, much greater than myself. Instead I’m trying to hold the earth on it’s axis while managing, mothering, manipulating everyone else’s life and work, believing it’s all up to me (no wonder I have migraines!).

    That’s why it’s pernicious amnesia—because even after I remember that I came from God and will return to God and God’s in the midst everything and every moment, I forget again, many times a day, no less, and believe all of life is up to me.

    Evelyn Underwood, an early 20th century mystic said it this way:
    Just plain self-forgetfulness is the greatest of graces. The true relationship between the soul and God is the perfectly simple one of a childlike dependence. Well then, be simple and dependent: acknowledge once for all the plain fact that you have nothing of your own.
    It’s so easy for me to forget that I have nothing of my own.

    But God sees our amnesia and decided to enter our world to help us remember who we are and where we came from. So God came like a child—God came in childlike dependence to demonstrate the fundamental truth that God our Source, our Sustainer and End. God sent Godself to us to cure us of our pernicious amnesia- to help us re-member. To remember literally means “to put back together." God sent Godself to put back together our primary relationship with God who exists since the beginning of time.

    John says,
    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. We just celebrated this truth at Christmas and in all the busy-ness, the parties, the shopping, the traveling the gatherings and the gifts, we may have missed this radical thing that God is up to:

    This cosmic God who is the Source and Sustainer of the universe - where there are – 200 billion stars in our solar system! Our solar system lives in a universe of galaxies; there are 100 billion galaxies in the universe! This God of 100 billion galaxies pressed Godself into human DNA, into the size of a tiny embryo and into a female uterus, which is size of a man’s fist! (I first learned this phrase from Sr. Carla Mae Streeter, a theology professor emeritus at Aquinas Institute). God clothed himself in flesh and blood and limitation and emotion and finiteness. God put on the limits of flesh and bone. The light that was God’s first creation - this light comes to us, dressed in human skin.

    What do we make of this kind of God? God will go to any length to make sure that you and I know that we are born of God, loved by God and that nothing delights God more than being with us, living in us, dwelling in our humanity and daily life. God will spare no expense and no effort to communicate love to us. God will stop at nothing so that we know God’s love us and gives power to become children of God, born of the will of God (not of will of flesh or world) and we receive grace upon grace.

    God came in human form so as to say “don’t’ forget!” Remember who you came from, remember who you are as my child, remember who loves you into being. The One who was In the Beginning created your beginning.

    This is why we have worship every 7 days- because we forget who are. So in the beginning of the week, we remember and put back together who we are. It’s why daily prayer matters because it helps cure us of our amnesia: so that in the beginning of the day,in the beginning of a meal, in the beginning of our nights' rest, we acknowledge the Source of our life and pull ourselves back from forgetfulness. Short Daily prayers ground us in God’s love and presence - that because Jesus took on our humanity, Jesus is clothed in your humanity, in your life and work, in your relationships and actions and daily breath. The Creator of the universe has given birth to you and wraps you in love and power, in light and truth.

    When we remember who we are, when we remember how we came into being, when we remember the Creator dwells with us and in us, then the world is a completely new place. Since the Word and Light and Presence of God took on the double helix of our make-up and embraced the whole human experience, we are given the gift of seeing the sacred presence of God in our daily life, our daily world—in the creation and in the people God has created and called into being.

    I like to call them, “God-sightings” – places where now we can see God’s presence and work in the everyday life we share. God-sightings are where we see light, grace and truth hidden in the ordinary. Perhaps you have heard the story of the young child who's afraid of the dark. Their mom tucks them into bed and the child says, "Don't leave me because I'm scared of the dark." And the mom says, "You don't need to be afraid because Jesus is with you!" And the child says, "Yeah, but, I need Jesus with some skin on.”

    That’s what God-sightings are about – seeing Jesus with some skin on. PrThe psence of God, or what the bible calls the “glory” of God is hidden inside each person. Since God arrives in a stable with the beasts, then surely God is in the flooded houses, and with the people who lost their business in our recent flooding. We see Jesus with some skin on in those who are filling sandbags and donating blood and new furnishings, those who help the re-building and donate money. Those who bring hope and light and a way to start again. A colleague shared with me that the way she tells children to see God in the midst of a crisis is to, "look for the helpers." The helpers are the ones who are Jesus with some skin on—where divine energy and light are breaking through in the world.

    When we remember who we are and where we come from and see God at work in the world, then we can join John the Baptist in this Gospel reading and testify to the light. When others forget, when they suffer from amnesia, when all they can see is loss and hurt and heartache, we can say, "see the light here and the light there:  God is in the unexpected smile, the shoulder to cry on, the meal prepared and brought to your door, the friend who takes you to the doctor, the neighbors who leave their tasks and help you clean up and rebuild, the prayers offered, the love and encouragement shared." God is here and wrapped in the ordinary stuff of our daily life.

    When I was in chemotherapy for breast cancer, I was just plastered to the bed with exhaustion. After one treatment, a friend came over sat on the bed with me while I rested. She would knit, and I would doze off. I would wake up and there she would be knitting. We would chat for a minute, and then I'd doze off again. I'd wake up and she would be there, knitting. I had forgotten that God was in this terrible, desolate pit with me. But this friend became for me, Jesus with skin on and knitting, helping me to re-member that I was not alone. Several years later, when I have a amnesia now, I remember how it felt to wake up and see her next to me, knitting, and it helps me remember.

    In her poem, Earth’s Crammed with Heaven, Elizabeth Barrette Browning said,
    Earth's crammed with heaven,
    And every common bush afire with God;
    But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
    The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

    Earth is crammed with heaven, the very presence of God in every cell, every plant, every person. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.

    So, re-member, remember you are born of the will of God so you can see this ordinary life crammed full of the light and presence of the Word made flesh—that’s a new year goal worth embracing.

  • God's Answer

    blogpic.JesusBaptismA sermon preached on Sunday, January 8, 2017 for the Baptism of our Lord; Matthew 3:13-17, Isaiah 42:1-9, Acts 10-34-43

    "What is the question, that if you had the answer, it would set you free?" Organizational guru, Peter Block asks this question in the book, The Answer to How is Yes. Block writes,

    It’s the mother of all of questions—it’s a question that can only be meditated upon. Each time you answer it, you begin a different conversation… It is like a laser beam into what matters. It brings the question of our freedom front and center. 

    "What is the question, that if you had the answer, it would set you free?" I suppose the question and the answer depend on what we need to be freed from. It might be different for each of us. What freedom would change your life? From what do you need to be freed so that you might more completely, fulfill the purpose God has for your life? Is it anxiety about the future or worry about those you love? Fear of failing or self-laothing? Fear of getting older, becoming incapacitated, or dying? Being unloved or alone? Controlling everyone and everything around you so that you can feel ok?

    For me right now, I need to be freed from anxiety about the future. Dan and I are both working as Interim Pastors; he is at 2 churches part-time and I’m at a church in Florissant. All 3 of our contracts end on August 31st of this year, the same month our youngest child goes off to college. What’s next? We have no idea, but living in anxiety about it does not add to the quality of our life, the productivity of our days, or our faithfulness to the work we have right now. Yet, the question looms large.

    I wonder if this mother of all questions is also in the background at Jesus’ Baptism in our Gospel reading today. What is the question, if Jesus had the answer, it would set him free--free to fulfill his mission from God to save us, to bring in God’s kingdom, and to fulfill all righteousness? What does Jesus need to begin his mission and ministry?

    Jesus no doubt understood his mission in light of the message of the prophets. Our Isaiah passage identifies the servant of the Lord as one who will "faithfully bring forth justice…God has sent him to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness." Jesus’ mission includes reaching out to the poor and oppressed, healing those who are outcast, binding up the brokenhearted, and loving those who are rejected by society. Jesus’ mission will embody the values Peter preaches in Acts—that God shows no partiality regarding nation, culture, ethnicity or background but comes to save all people.

    And if all of that weren’t difficult enough, there will be plenty of obstacles. People from his own home town will deride his authority. The religious leaders will be threatened by his teaching and his followers. Even the disciples will misunderstand the mission and try to derail Jesus from blessing children, feeding hungry people, spending time in prayer, and being faithful to his mission, even to death on a cross. His closest friends will compete for the top spots at his right and left, they will deny, abandon, and betray him.

    So what is the question, that if Jesus had the answer, it would set him free to fulfill this purpose, to be ALL-IN, to completely commit himself to God’s mission for him in the world? Maybe the question is something like, Who am I? Am I in this alone? Can I really take this on? Is this really what God wants me to do? Whatever the question was, God’s voice boomed from the heaven after his baptism, giving Jesus the answer he needed to set him free: "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased." Or a better translation would be, “This is my Son the beloved, I have chosen him.”

    Jesus, who is the Gospel for us, had the Gospel preached to him by God at the beginning of his ministry! You are my child. I love you. I have chosen you. I am always with you. God announces Jesus’ identity, affirms that he is precious in God’s sight and loved dearly, and is chosen for this mission in the world. There is no doubt about God’s presence with him as the Spirit of God alights upon him in the form of a dove. Jesus doesn’t have to earn God’s love by fulfilling the mission, Jesus receives God’s grace at the beginning in order to carry out the mission. It’s the answer to the question that sets him free.

    It’s a pretty good answer! You are my child. I love you. I have chosen you. I am always with you. It’s an answer that enabled Jesus to remain faithful to God’s mission of healing, teaching, touching and transforming. It’s an answer that kept him strong despite all obstacles, even when they put him to death by hanging him on a tree. It’s an answer that "raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear to those who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead," as Acts says. Jesus was set free to fulfill his mission because he didn’t have to worry about WHO he was or WHOSE he was or if he was loved or if he mattered. The answer was always YES, so he was freed to say, “yes” to God—yes to God in the faces of the hungry and outcast, yes to God in tax collectors and sinners, yes to God in the Samaritan woman at the well, yes to God in healing those with leprosy, demons and blindness, yes to God in all who needed the same Gospel preached to them that God gave to Jesus: You are my child. I love you. I have chosen you. I am always with you.

    It’s a pretty amazing answer. It’s an answer that will work for my question about our unknown future, and for your question, whatever that might be. It’s an answer that sets us free, no matter what our question is. God says, You are my child. I love you. I have chosen you. I am always with you.” It’s an answer that sets us free to fulfill our purpose as God’s people in our daily life. We don’t have to worry about WHO we are or WHOSE we are or if we are loved or if we matter, or if God has a purpose for us. The answer is always YES! So we are freed to say, "yes" to God in sharing our gifts and resources so others hear the Gospel of grace. Even in the midst of obstacles and an unknown future, we can trust in God’s presence and power for us everyday.

    No matter our questions, through Jesus Christ, God sets us free to love and serve in the mission of the Gospel. Hold fast to God’s promise to Jesus and to us: You are my child. I love you. I have chosen you. I am always with you. It’s the answer that always sets us free to say YES to God.

    Image: Baptism of Jesus by He Qi http://www.heqiart.com/

  • It's All About That Love

    My life, my prayers, my purpose - it all starts with love – not me loving God or me loving others, but “beholding God, beholding me and smiling,” as the Preparation Days encourage us in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.  I prayed this one exercise everyday at the beginning of the 9-month program.  It was on Day 57 that my prayer experience moved from my head to my heart!  I moved from picturing God smiling on me to feeling God love me.

    Yesterday during my prayers, I simply asked what God wanted to say to me and here’s what I received:

    The more I accept how much God loves me, the more able I am to carry out what God wants to do through me. I am freer to listen to the inner voice. Since God loves me so much and fulfilling God’s call is my primary aim – my calling flows out of God’s love for me. 

    If I am trapped in self-hate and self-criticism, I cannot do what God wants me to do because I don’t feel worthy or deserving of such attention, such joy.  Thinking I can do God’s will then feels ego-driven, and the negative voices say, “Who do you think you are?  You’re not that great to be fulfilling God’s will.”  

    It turns out that my worthiness has nothing to do with what God can do through me because it’s rooted in who God is and not who I am.  It turns out that no one is worthy to be an instrument of God – it’s pure gift, rooted in God’s self-giving love. It’s a fact, a reality, apart from my worthiness or my acceptance of it.

    Since God’s love comes to me a priori, the primary purpose of prayer and meditation is to experience how much God loves me.   From this vantage point, new vistas open up that are not limited by my narrow view of what I think I am supposed to accomplish in life. Such love leads me to new questions for my day:

    • What in love does God want to do through me?
    • Since God made me and loves me, what work, relationships and tasks flow from this?
    • How does God want to show up in the world through me? 

    Each day is full of new possibilities!


    Photo Copyright: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/profile_bokica'>bokica / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

  • One Powerful Letter

    blogpic letterA Sermon on Philemon preached September 4, 2016

    Anyone who’s been a parent, or loved a child deeply, knows the anguish and the anxiety of releasing your child into the world. Of sending them across the state or across the country to move into the next phase of their life, be it college or their first job.

    I received this kind of concerned letter from a parent a couple of weeks ago—well, actually, it was a message on FB, but in today’s world, that constitutes a letter! A friend in Kansas City wrote and shared that her daughter was moving back to North Carolina for her senior year of college. My friend wondered if she could stay at our house in St. Louis as she traveled across country. We were delighted to help and she is now safely arrived at school and taking classes.

    It’s a letter that most of us have both written and received—seeking the blessing of someone else’s love for our child, and sharing our love for someone else’s child.

    The book of Philemon is also such a letter—a letter written by the Apostle, Paul to Philemon. Paul writes as Onesimus’ Father—not his blood relative—but instead, as his father in the body of Christ, his father in faith who brought the Gospel message to Onesimus. Rather than being sent by mail ahead of time, Onesimus carries this letter in his pocket as he travels from Paul, who was imprisoned in a different town.

    The circumstances of this letter are different from the one my friend sent, because Onesimus is Philemon’s slave. But at its core, this really was the same letter for it carried in the anxiety and anguish of a parent sending her child into the world. Onesimus has left Philemon—we’re not sure why or how—and fled to Paul who is the founder of the Christian community that gathers in Philemon’s house.

    More than a simple night of lodging, this letter carries in it life and death for Onesimus. In the first century, a slave who has left his master and owner without permission, would have been severely punished or even put to death for his transgression (this is part of our own history in this country). Imagine the fear and trembling with which Onesimus traveled—wondering if this short letter in his pocket is sufficient to persuade Philemon to spare his life and not give him the punishment allowed by law.

    In the letter in Onesimus’ pocket, Paul reveals to Philemon that Onesimus has become a believer in Jesus Christ, and because of this, appeals to Philemon to do away with the owner-slave relationship. Paul encourages Philemon to forego his legal rights as a slave-owner, and instead, to transform their relationship to one of brothers—as equals—in the body of Christ. Paul is asking Philemon to live out his admonition in Romans 12:2: Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

    “I am sending you my own child,” says, Paul, "'my very heart'—a precious one whom Jesus loves and forgives and saves—so change your thinking Philemon, expand your mind, for when you change how think about Onesimus, you will be freed to behave differently toward him—not as one who commands his behavior, but as one who loves him in Jesus Christ.”

    Paul invites Philemon into the hard spiritual work of walking the walk instead of just talking the talk. Paul beckons Philemon to leave behind social stratifications and class privileges and instead to live by Galatians 3:28, There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

    “Philemon, it’s not enough that you believe in Jesus’ love, forgiveness and power,” says Paul, “Jesus asks you to be his love, forgiveness and power. Let go of your rights and the vengeance or anger that goes with them, and change your behavior, your relationship with, and your treatment of Onesimus.”

    Paul adds, “I could command you to do it—for I am in authority over you, but I want you to choose it through the power of Christ who dwells in you. Can you receive this son of mine, my own child, my own heart, into your home and care for him as your own child rather than a slave?”

    As in so many other passages, Scripture does not give us the satisfaction of telling us the end of the story. What happened? Did Philemon forgive Onesimus and love him as a brother in Christ? Did the church gathered in his house, let go of their assumed “right” to decide who is in and who is out, and follow Paul in being transformed by the renewing of their mind in Christ to act out of love and forgiveness?

    The only answer we have is the one we ourselves choose. Paul’s letter asks us if we will forego our societal or class rights and privileges to love our brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul’s letter asks us to extend the radical hospitality of Christ himself in our relationships, communities and churches. I fear that the very public use of Christianity as a moral club with which to ostracize and demean those we find distasteful or too different is finding more currency today. I fear the politics of hatred spouted by those who claim to be Bible-believing Christians is becoming a more powerful voice than the voice of grace and love and forgiveness in Jesus Christ.

    My husband Dan, serves a Presbyterian church in a small town. A church member told him the story of a young woman who found herself in a situation like Onesimus. Although covered in tattoos and piercings, she was seeking a loving and forgiving relationship with Jesus, so she visited one of the churches in town. After the worship service, the members of that church literally asked her not to come back. They thought it was their right to decide who was in and who was out.

    But doesn’t she, like Onesimus, have a letter in her pocket? A letter from Jesus himself that carries life and death and says, this is my precious child, my heart. Please receive her and love her as you would your own child.

    And doesn’t every immigrant fleeing war or abuse or sex trafficking or hopelessness have a letter in their pocket from Jesus himself, that carries life and death and says, this is my precious child, my heart. Please receive him and love him as you would your own child.

    And doesn’t the gay, lesbian or transgendered student in your family’s school have a letter in their pocket from Jesus himself that carries life and death and says, this is my precious child, my heart. Please receive her and love her as you would your own child.

    And didn’t Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin and every other young African American man in this country, whom we have been taught to fear in so many ways, have a letter in their pocket from Jesus himself, that carries life and death and says, this is my precious child, my heart. Please receive him and love him as you would your own child.

    Can we expand our thoughts, can we be transformed by the renewing mind of Christ and love them, care for them, help them, with dignity and with agape love?

    Paul makes one final promise in his letter for Onesimus: "If Onesimus owes you anything, any money for labor lost, charge it to me. And when I come back to you, I will pay the price of whatever he owes."

    Paul himself is walking the walk instead of just talking the talk. "I will pay the price myself." Paul is the living example of the love of Christ in action, in real life, in real relationships.

    We hear in Paul’s own transformed heart, the promise of Jesus Christ to all of us. As Bible-believing Christians, Paul calls us to join him and Philemon in relinquishing our rights whether of citizenship or church membership, whether of privilege or class status, and instead, allow Jesus to transform our minds and our lives around the love of Christ who has paid the price for us.

    We can be the Pauls and Philemons of the church today, embodying the love and radical hospitality of Christ himself. For don’t we each have a letter in our pocket from Jesus himself, that carries life and death and says, this is my precious child, my heart. Please receive him and love her as you would your own child.

  • Present Anxiety

    blogpic.santawithchildA Christmas Essay (written in 2005) published in my new book, Motherhood Calling: Experiencing God in Everyday Family Life (on sale here!). 

    It’s December twenty-first, and I’m in the gift frenzy of the Christmas craze. Have I remembered everyone? Have I given them enough? Will someone give me something when I haven’t give them anything, and will I get that yucky feeling of un-thoughtfulness? Whoever said it’s “the most wonderful time of the year” wasn’t in charge of the family gift-giving and never had present anxiety.

    The teacher gift craze is really weighing on me this year. My younger two children, Jacob and Leah, are at one elementary school, and Daniel is at another one. Here is the teacher gift count to date: with the office staff, nurses, and all the teachers, including art and music, I had ten gifts ready. We passed them out after the Christmas program, and I realized we forgot the gym teacher and the school counselor. Now, we’re at an even dozen.

    At Daniel’s school, it’s about the same: hard-working, wonderful people who do amazing work, which add up to eleven more gifts. It’s a good thing I run a home business with a skin care and cosmetics company, and can go to my shelf to wrap sugar scrubs, body lotions, and after-shave balms. Yet, at nearly two dozen gifts just for teachers, it adds up, even at wholesale prices.

    But here is my dilemma: Daniel, a fifth grader, goes to the middle school for eighth-grade algebra. I was hoping to draw the line at junior high as far as teacher gifts. If I give this one eighth-grade teacher a gift, it feels like opening Pandora’s gift box. Two dozen teachers’ gifts for three children would turn into three and four dozen over the junior high and high school years. Leah is only in first grade. I felt overwhelmed, but couldn’t seem to give myself permission to not give the algebra teacher a gift. I asked Daniel. No, he didn’t need to give her a gift. I asked my husband. No, he didn’t need to give her a gift. He didn’t need to give some of the previous two dozen gifts either, but, God bless him, he had the restraint not to tell me so at that moment.

    I didn’t get a gift together for the algebra teacher, but I still felt uncomfortable about it. It fed my anxiety about other presents. Once I delivered the teacher gifts, I looked at the list. I had put ten boxes in the mail to family and friends, including one birthday present. Oh, no! I had forgotten the UPS deliveryman, Jeff, who comes to my house regularly, and the mail carrier. Amazed that I had anything left, I pulled something off the shelf to wrap for them later.

    Perhaps I could bake pumpkin bread for the neighbors, and what about the children of our former neighbors who have lovingly sent us several Christmas ornaments from our nation’s capital? I wanted to send them and their daughter something for Hanukkah. I still needed to get my grandmother’s gift and my brother’s birthday gift in the mail. Perhaps I could pull something together quickly, pick up a Hanukkah gift, add it to the box, and get to the post office with these last boxes before my 10 a.m. appointment.

    I hurriedly wrapped up some cologne. I looked at the table to grab the packing tape and get ready to go. Something was wrong. Shoot! I had put the woman’s name on the UPS guy’s gift. Wow, good thing I caught that; she probably wouldn’t want a men’s fragrance. I’m not sure UPS Jeff would like Velocity for Women either—it has “a light citrus fragrance with a banana flower top note.”

    I rushed to the bathroom to apply my makeup with this ambitious, frenzied plan in mind to get all this done before 10 a.m. I turned on National Public Radio while I put on my makeup; “Morning Edition” was still on the air. They were doing a story on a former telecommunications executive who retired at fifty-seven but lost half his savings in the dot-com bust in the late 1990s. He bleached his gray beard, moustache, and eyebrows white and went to Santa School with one thousand other men who looked just like him, in order to earn money during the holiday season.

    I thought it was kind of sad until I realized he seemed to relish the joy and meaning this job brought to his life, which he didn’t have in his previous work. A little boy sat on his lap and whispered in his ear. Santa whispered back. The boy got off Santa’s lap and said with glee, “Santa loves me!”

    Why couldn’t I hear that Santa loves me before applying the new ultra, lash-thickening, volumizing mascara? Tears flowed. I looked like a football player ready to battle the opponent and the sun’s glare. Santa loves me. This one simple declaration on the radio laid bare all of the present anxiety that I seem to have every year. I thought I had outgrown it, dealt with it, gotten over it, and moved on, but the gift-frenzy of the morning told another story. The gifts I give and the anxiety I feel are hungering after one simple desire: to be loved. All I need to know is that God loves me, my mother and father love me, my husband and children love me, my extended family and friends love me, the teachers I want to thank with gifts love me, and, indeed, even Santa loves me.

    I grew up in a family where feelings were not often openly expressed. I’ve heard Garrison Keillor of A Prairie Home Companion say that we Scandinavians don’t talk about the things that are most precious to us—our faith and our feelings. This meant that presents carried a lot of meaning because they expressed our feelings. They are not tokens; they are it. Love was expressed not just in the gift itself, but also in how it was beautifully wrapped with lovely bows. My mom, who was superb at making each gift special, was on the cutting edge of bow fashion. If the “in” thing was spiked, we had spiked; super curly, we had it; bow gifts, we were the first. We even had a bow maker. My artistic, older sister made beautiful bows and wrapped packages with sharp corners. I never could get mine to look as good; my bows were a floppy mess, and my corners were mushy.

    If the gift needed to communicate all the love and appreciation, gratitude, affection, and thoughtfulness I feel toward people, my gifts were always coming up short. Maybe my family wouldn’t know how much I love them or see it in this lame bow I’ve made. Worse yet, what if I find out that they don’t really love me? Thus, present anxiety; apparently, it’s the gift that keeps on giving. Great.

    The simple declaration, “Santa loves me!” from the story on the radio reminds me that I truly am loved before I have given or received a single gift. And this is true even if I don’t get the present right, wrap it with sharp corners, or ever make it to the cutting edge of bow fashion. This declaration of love didn’t change my course today. I still went to the store for that last gift, put the package together at the post office, and mailed off my Hanukkah gifts, birthday gift, and the last of the Christmas gifts. But I kept thinking about the junior high algebra teacher. What did I really want to tell to her? I really wanted to communicate appreciation and gratitude, which I could do by writing her a thoughtful note in a holiday card. I decided that’s what I would do for her and anyone else in the junior high and high school who would have a significant impact on my children’s education and lives. This gave me a freeing, peaceful feeling.

    Hearing that Santa loves me was the only Christmas gift I needed this year. It was God’s way of telling me that he loves me no matter what, and I really can just relax and be loved.