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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Oh Holy Night

Eight years ago I lost my vision after a long bout with progressive blindness. Devastated and despondent, I enrolled in a 16 week rehabilitation program for mobility, personal adjustment and the use of a computer with adaptive software. Part of the reason I was reluctant to enroll in a program for the blind and visually impaired was because I feared these people would be ignorant and uneducated. I was an artist, a legal secretary, a professional. What could I possibly have in common with “those people?”

I was wrong. They were all ordinary people with extraordinary problems, just like me. We were all thrust into a living nightmare due to circumstances beyond our control. I met doctors, nurses, teachers and paramedics, all with some type of eye disease that had or was robbing them blind. Many had the added burden of facing marital problems because a spouse could not accept the pending blindness. Through this program, we formed an unbreakable bond. We laughed and we cried. Together, we faced an incredible journey filled with endless challenge and heart-wrenching pain. Words can never describe the feeling of being fitted for a white cane, the fear of being in the onslaught of traffic without sight, traveling the long and bitter road from denial to acceptance.

As fate would have it, I was at the program during Christmas that year. We pitched in and had a party, all of us taking part in the celebration. In a huge kitchen, we made cookies and appetizers. But through it all, there was a silent humming that echoed off the walls…depression. For the most part, this was the first Christmas we were facing without vision. Some broke down, others lost their tempers and stormed out of the room, unable to cope with the dark depression and feeling of being segregated and alienated. But then something happened. One woman stood and walked over to the pianist and began singing like an angel, “Oh Holy Night.”
The result was miraculous. Her melodic voice sliced through the depression. When the song ended, there was a moment of silence where you could truly hear a pin drop. And then the applause rose to the heavens, bringing the house down in glorious exultation. Nothing will ever compare to the sheer beauty of that moment. Every time I hear O’ Holy Night, I tear up and remember a time in my life when what didn’t kill me made me stronger.

Oh Holy Night!
Oh Holy Night!
The Stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!

Long lay the world and sin in error pining
Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

Fall on your knees
Oh hear the angel voices
Oh night divine
Oh night when Christ was born
Oh night divine
Oh night divine

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand
So led by a star so brightly gleaming
Here come the wise men from Orient land

The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger
In all our trials born to be our friend
Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace

Change shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.

T'was the Night Before Christmas

Every year at Christmas, my church sponsors a Sharing Tree for the less fortunate. The tree is decorated with paper angel ornaments. Anyone who wishes to participate chooses an angel, buys a gift and brings it back the following week, beautifully wrapped. These angels have no family, and whatever gift they receive from the church is their only present. While this is a wonderful tradition, as you might imagine, it can also present quite a challenge. We are given very little information about our angels. Let me share with you my first experience with this tradition.
The first year I participated in the Sharing Tree, my angel was an elderly woman, a 90-year-old shut in. The first problem I encountered was trying to figure out precisely what a shut in was. After doing a little research, I learned a shut in is a person who is unable to leave the house. I also learned my angel was in a nursing home and hated Christmas because she had no one to share it with. The nursing home was relatively close to where I lived, so I asked if it would be all right if I delivered it in person. I thought it would be a nice gesture to show her someone out there cared. The staff thought it a marvelous idea and said it would make her day. But that still presented the problem of what to buy a 90-year-old shut in.
She’d have no need for a warm scarf or a pair of gloves. And clothes were out of the question since I didn’t know her size. A toasty pair of slippers might be nice, but again. HMM. What size? There were books, stories of inspiration. But what if she had cataracts? Or maybe she didn’t like to read. What to do? Out of options, I decided on a Christmas coffee mug filled with chocolate candy. Pleased with myself, off I went to meet my angel on Christmas Eve.
The elderly woman sat upright in bed, all dressed up in a pink bathrobe. She was all smiles, her cheeks glowing with excitement. I introduced myself and extended my hand. Nothing. My heart sank. Slowly but surely, I realized she had no use of her arms. And here I was, ready to hand her a coffee cup filled with candy.
Asking God for guidance, I briefly panicked. But within a few seconds, it became obvious it wasn’t the gift that mattered to the woman, my angel. She wasn’t a child waiting for Santa. She was a woman waiting for a visitor, a friend, someone to share Christmas with. I set the gift down and said nothing. Then I recalled something the nurse had said when I told her I was coming for a visit. She said the lady was an angel, a patient who never gave the staff any trouble. She said if she was guilty of anything, it was her love of sweets. Then it occurred to me. The nurses probably fed her.
Unwrapping the gift, I showed it to her. Her bright blue eyes lit up, spotting the chocolates. Not wanting to go against any nursing home rules, I wagged my finger and told her she’d just have to wait until Christmas morning before she could open the candy. She smiled, a girlish giggle escaping her lips.
I left the nursing home feeling like I’d just visited an angel. She taught me a valuable lesson. It’s not the gift that matters. It’s showing that you care. We are all God’s angels. Let’s spread the cheer this Christmas.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Christmas Post

Lead us to the Perfect Light

With the frigid weather and the snow falling outdoors, it is beginning to look a lot like Christmas. At my house, we begin our Christmas Eve dinner by breaking wafers with each guest seated at the table. Not only is this said to bring good luck, but it is our way of sharing what we have with one another.
What makes Christmas special to me is the traditions passed on from generation to generation, instilling in me a strong sense of hearth and home. After the breaking of the wafers, the well wishes and cheers, and the feast prepared by many hands, we reminisce over coffee and dessert. Sooner or later, one of us will bring up the good old days when we were kids and put up our train set in the basement, our own little Santa village.
It all started on Thanksgiving weekend, the entire family trooping downstairs like little elves, each with a designated task. My dad and brother put up the platform, carefully nailing the track down, hammering away like Santa’s helpers. My sister and I were in charge of going through box after box of houses, telephone poles, street lamps and tunnels, dusting them off and making them shine for “Light up” night.
After a few hours, the insatiable aroma of sugar cookies wafted from the kitchen, and before long, Mom brought down a platter of the oven-fresh cookies, our family dog hot on her heels. We’d dust off our hands, turn off the lights and watch our little village come to life while sipping on hot cocoa and holiday treats.
A week or so before Christmas, the freshly cut tree went up, filling the house with the heady scent of pine. We strung popcorn and trimmed the plump tree with bright lights and shiny ornaments, icicles and the angel tree top. The Nativity Set was placed below the tree, the cardboard lid staying closed until Christmas morning when the Christ child was exposed, along with the Holy Family, The Three Wise Men and manger animals. Before we opened our gifts, we’d kneel down and wish the Baby Jesus a Merry Christmas.
One Christmas Day, we went to my aunts for dinner. To our amazement, she brought out a birthday cake with no candles. Her entire family sang “Happy Birthday Dear Jesus, Happy Birthday to you.”
This memory has burned a lasting imprint in my brain, one I often reflect on when holiday stress gets the best of me. How easy it is to get caught up in the madness of the season, the shopping, the baking, the business. Year after year, the true meaning of Christmas is lost in the shuffle.
I’d like to start a new tradition this year in honor of my aunt. In these trying times, let’s find it in our hearts to remember why Our Savior was born—to lead us to the perfect light.
“Happy Birthday Dear Jesus, Happy Birthday to you!”

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My favorite comment will win a prize, so stay tuned for the date and details. Wishing you a wonderful and blessed Christmas.

Sharon Donovan

JANUARY 7, 2009

FEBRUARY 25, 2009

MARCH 18, 2009