Christmas Gold

My daughter goes to in Pacifica. Last week, her class went to Sutter’s Fort for their long-awaited field trip. The class as well as the parent chaperones each become a Sutter’s Fort character. They have costumes, and they must learn all they can about their character. My daughter was Elizabeth Bays Wimmer. Little did I know Mrs. Wimmer was instrumental in the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Fort.

Elizabeth, I learned from many rehearsals, was born in Virginia in 1832. When she was 16, her family moved to Georgia where they were miners. She married her first husband there, and she and her little family moved to Missouri. There her husband died. On her way to California, she married Peter Wimmer and they arrived in Sutter’s Fort in 1845 when she was 24. The story goes that James Marshall found what looked like a gold nugget in the creek near Sutter’s Fort sawmill. He showed it around, but everyone doubted that it was real gold. But, alas, Elizabeth, with her mining experience, offered to test the nugget in her pot of lye soap. If the nugget was just fool’s gold, it would have melted in the soaping process. Now I quote from Eloisa’s paper: “’This is gold’, thought Elizabeth. ‘I will throw it into my lye kettle and if it is indeed gold, it will be gold when it comes out. I finished off my soap that day and set it off to cool. The soap cooled until the next morning. At the breakfast table, one of the workhands raised up his head from eating and said, “I heard something about gold being discovered, what about it?” I told him it was in my soap kettle. A plank was brought to me to lay my soap onto. And I cut the soap in chunks, but the nugget was not found. At the bottom of the pot was a double handful of potash, an ashy substance that is a by-product of soap-making, which I lifted with my two hands and there was my gold as bright as can be.’” Elizabeth, who remains rather anonymous in the Gold Rush history of California, was indeed instrumental at the inception of the gold rush at Sutter’s Fort.

So it is with Christmas too. Is all this merriment and celebrating fool’s gold or is there a nugget of real gold, true gold, under the ribbons, the wreaths, the wrapping paper and even the religious rituals? Sometimes we have to test the tradition and, like Elizabeth Wimmer, find out if what we are celebrating is the real deal. We must cut through the long blocks of traditions like Santa Claus, the Christmas tree and even gift giving, good and wholesome as they are, and check if there is veracity in this Christmas tradition we celebrate. We may even have to dig into some potash of varying accounts of history; but in the end, there will be, the nugget, the true gold. That, unwrapped of Christmas tradition and various cultural contributions over the centuries, there was born a child. The Child.  A Baby….a little Baby Boy wrapped…not in glittering wrapper like a treasured present, but in swaddling cloths…a feeding trough, his bassinet; no stuffed animals surrounding him, but live animals grousing nearby….three kings, at some point, manage to pay homage not in Herod’s palace, but in a humble barn.

This is the nugget; this is the Christmas Gold in its purest form. When the magic of Christmas fades, as it inevitably does as we get older, we can always look to this truth that “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” That truth never fades, that truth always stands the test of time. Though the Church has misrepresented His mandate over the centuries and thereby tarnished His name, even then we must look to the true gold, to His life, His words and when we do, we realize that we’ve discovered gold, Christmas gold. He is the Mother Lode and from the Christmas Gold of His Birth, we can mine inestimable riches in the Gospels, the New Testament and the various writings of those spiritual miners over the centuries. This Gold Rush has been going on since the first Christmas. And from this Mine, He bids us to: “…store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Merry Christmas!

10 Things I Hope My Children Learn: No. 3 – Gratitude

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Wow, Halloween came and went. October came and went. What a whisking whirlwind the beginning of fall was. I was driving up Skyline Drive just two nights ago….early November…and I saw a Christmas tree in someone’s window.  Whaaat?? Already. There is a special holiday that sometimes gets drowned between the ghosts and goblins, and the tinsel and trees. My mom is saddened that Thanksgiving is overlooked. Well, this next column is dedicated to the sentiment, the emotion, which has its own holiday, a sentiment that I hope my children cultivate, and an emotion that Henry Ward Beecher so delightfully expresses:

“The unthankful heart… discovers no mercies; but let the thankful heart sweep through the day and, as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings!”

I’ve been called an ingrate a few times in my life and to combat or correct this accusation, in reality as well in the echoing corridors of my mind, I’ve strove to be grateful, to appreciate all that has come my way. I know I take much for granted, but there is much for which I am deeply and truly grateful. Here are a few things.

Over five years ago, I had to go on assistance. This was a hard decision to make and I had to swallow a lot of pride, but it was necessary for me and my family. Actually, I should have done it much sooner. I want to say thank you to the taxpayers who support this government that provides this service to those who are in need.  I am slowly weaning myself off assistance and am glad to be working and paying taxes to replenish at least a fraction of what I used. Nonetheless, I am thankful to have had this resource available, and I thank the community for supporting this program.

I am thankful for the many friends I have in my life. To those who have given me emotional and prayer support as I raise these kids on my own, I thank you. My Facebook friends have encouraged me in my writing. Thank you. I am thankful to my family and all the help they have given me, for my parents, especially, who help me considerably…daily. My sister, my greatest advocate and sounding board, I am so thankful for. And, of course, my ten children and one son-in-law. In countless ways, great and small, they bless me, they love me, they honor me and they are my greatest gifts.

Finally, and supremely, I am grateful to the God who is. I am grateful for his creation that I thoroughly enjoy. In Pacifica, we are beyond spoiled with natural beauty. The ocean with her perpetual pounding peridot-colored waves is but an earthly example of an eternal entity. I am grateful to a church that has been entrusted with the Gospel, the good news, and its noble and transcendent themes: redemption, reconciliation, eternal life and love. All I can do is echo the psalmist’s declaration: “O taste and see that the Lord is good.”

Even in my trials and afflictions, I can be thankful, I stumbled on this verse from Psalm 119 during a dark time of my life: “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn your statutes.” (v. 71) As difficult as it was to be thankful for the trials in my life, I have learned that those times have yielded the precious fruit of patience, trust and an increased faith.

I hope my children learn to be grateful and be thankful for all the benefits that come their way each day.

“For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food, for love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Reviewing the Contract

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I entered into a contract with Jesus Christ over thirty years ago when I decided to invite him into my life and become a follower. Not sure in my Catholic upbringing whether I had actually asked him into my life, in a little church gathering I sealed the deal. In the blush of young idealism, I enjoyed fellowship, ministry and worship as I grew in my spiritual life. Even despite the eventual disillusionment of the ideal, I stuck with my commitment, my contract. Though church leaders failed, fellow Christians failed and I failed to live up to what I thought he wanted of them and me, I considered myself still contracted to him.

Over the decades, I have reviewed the contract – reviewed what it means to follow Christ, to be a Christian. I may have signed up in a rush of youthful zeal, but I have continued because of a single conviction that he is the way, the truth and the life as he has said he is. As I knew then as I know now, Christ is serious about “losing your life for my sake.” That is part of the deal – he lost his for mine, and I then lose mine for his.

Anyone that has worked in daycare or even in the schools knows what I mean when I say someone is a runner. There are locks and panic devices on gates near daycare yards or elementary school yards because some of the kids are runners. They hear the gate open or close and I bet they can distinguish by the different tones of the sound of the latch whether it is opening or closing. Then they run. They want out. I had a gate at my house in the East Bay that I had to tie intently because a couple of my kids were runners. Parents and teachers have to be vigilant when taking care of these little “bolters”.

In Romans 12:1, the apostle Paul urges believers to be a living sacrifice. Often over the years, I considered this verse because when times have been tough, perplexing or painful, I’ve wanted to run. When times are particularly tough, my ears tune in to any escape like the runner kids in the schoolyard. I want to jump off the sacrificial altar and take off. When I get that way, which I did not too long ago, I review the contract.

He indeed still asks me to lose my life for his. OK. Regarding the difficulties of my life, he said there would be tribulations, but he says to be of good cheer, anyway, because he has overcome the world. I knew that. And also, as Paul says in Romans 8:38, 39: “… I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us [me] from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord,” I am not separated from his love. He still loves me – yay!

What’s the problem, then, Donna? It has come down to a matter of trust. Do I trust him? Will I trust him like Solomon encourages in the first verse I ever memorized, Proverbs 3:5, 6 – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge him and he will direct your paths.” You would think “trust” would be elementary to the Christian education; let me assure you, it is not. To trust him, especially as you get older, is just as hard as when you were younger and probably not used to trusting anyone. We live in a culture where we are encouraged to be dependent on no one. God calls us to be utterly dependent on him. For me, that can be uncomfortable, and then I want to take over the reins and take off. Run, if you will.

Nevertheless, after reviewing the contract, and in light of all the times the Lord has indeed helped me, even in dire circumstances, I’m not going to run. I am going to stay this course. That single conviction, that he is the truth, still serves as a great weight bearing wall that is unmoved and unmovable. Despite my “Eli Eli lama sabachtani” days and nights, I will “hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise him.”

 

About my blog: I am a mom of 10 kids living in Pacifica. The name of my blog, “From the Shoe”, is swiped from Cheaper By The Dozen’s Lillian Gilbreth’s summer newsletter. The “shoe” reference is to the children’s’ nursery rhyme. I mix humor and philosophical musings with everyday events. I hope you like it. From the Shoe artwork by Alec Maloney.

What I Hope My Children Learn: No. 4 – Slow Down!

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“Donna,” my boss called, “come in here.” My co-worker joined us, and he said shut the door. I knew why. The day before I made a significant error. Not grave, but big nonetheless. I was new to this job, so I was nervous. When the door opened ten minutes later, two words remained in my mind, “Slow down.”

Slow down. How ironic! I have always been like the hare in that old children’s story. Running to and fro, accomplishing little. Not even finishing a race that should have been a cinch to win. But, middle age has a way of teaching me things. Anxiety forces me to slow the hell down. Slow down on the road, slow down at home, slow down at work.

I hope my kids learn to slow down now while they are young and full of energy. When I was a young adult, I was idling way too high. What I wanted, I wanted now and in its entirety. Whatever passions or needs I needed gratified, I couldn’t wait for their fulfillment in an appropriate timetable. I thought having all that I wanted would make me happy. Boy, was I unprepared for adulthood. But now that I am older and have slowed down, I have gleaned some important tips.

Turn off the noise makers. The TV, the Ipod, the computer, the maddening thoughts that whisk you into a frenzy. And stop. And breathe. And listen.

Stop. Stop worrying. Corrie Ten Boom wrote: Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength – carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.

Breathe. Breathe deep. Being near the ocean, I enjoy an exquisite air quality. Mixed with a little sea scent and hint of fish, a deep draught is intoxicating. And relaxing.

And listen. Listen to the birds early in the morning. Listen to the unending pulse of the surf and the howling ocean wind. Listen to those thoughts that are deep down inside of you and soon things become untangled or at least manageable.

Slow down and enjoy today. G.K. Chesterton wrote: The modern world has far too little understanding of the art of keeping young. Its notion of progress has been to pile one thing on top of another, without caring if each thing was crushed in turn. People forgot that the human soul can enjoy a thing most when there is time to think about it and be thankful for it. And by crowding things together they lost the sense of surprise; and surprise is the secret of joy.  Slow down and make room for surprises.

My Worst Enemy

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I was talking to a co-worker the other day. We were lamenting our lots in life and I said something really bad. In response to, I don’t even remember what, I said, “At least, you’re not stupid.” I was saying, in an unthinking moment, that I consider myself stupid for having ten kids. I don’t know about you, but often I say things I really don’t mean. It’s as if some thought comes in my mind, for instance, a thought that I probably think someone else’s thinking about me, and then I express it as if it were my own. I confess I let that happen a lot. I am my own worst enemy sometimes. Happily, I am trying to quit, thanks to Pink. She encourages me when I hear her lyrics from “Perfect”: Change the voices in your head, make them like you instead.

I went to bed the other night with this regret on my mind. Doesn’t seem like a big deal, does it? But, ya know, it is. I don’t want my kids thinking I think I was stupid having them all. Maybe I bit off more that I could chew – heck, so did Frank Sinatra – but, I emphatically don’t regret it.

For the record, this is what I was thinking then…..and now. First, I loved having babies. I loved the idea of a big family with kids running all over the house. We started our family with that in mind. I delighted in their personalities, their interactions with each other (well, the positive one,s at least). I know things didn’t work out according to the dream; but, despite the difficulties in the detour, I know “all things work for good”.
Second, I believe in a simple life. I didn’t think they needed all the latest gadgets since they were content playing in the mud or building forts or rebuilding broken computers. And, for the record, we probably ate healthier when we had little money (there were some very lean times)…..well, except for the cookies and the Twinkie Store stuff.

Third, I cannot imagine my life without any one of them. Each one has enriched my life and given me a unique joy. Each is a different facet of the beautiful jewel I call my family.

There is a bible verse, Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips, that I often remind myself of; however, I need a guard over my thoughts, a first guard, if you will. Before I put my foot in my mouth, I need to check to see if what I am expressing is really something I believe. And when I do say things I don’t mean, it helps to express the truth forcefully like I did above to clear my mind, to even understand why and ultimately know myself more. It is time to retract the thoughts I’ve allowed in my mind that I don’t believe, that I don’t agree with, that harm others, that harm myself. It’s time to trust the true thoughts and dispel the false ones.