Monday, December 17, 2007

I have something to say...

“I have something to say,” she exclaimed right in the middle of her choir performance. Jillian, our perfectly regular 7 year old, introduced without any pretension whatsoever, a story she needed to tell. I forgot my camera, but I will have ingrained in my memory this night, because Jillian, my daughter, had something to say.

Her choir director was interjecting anecdotal bits about the Christmas songs the were singing between each number. She was brief but interesting. She was giving the kids a chance to collect themselves between each tune. She was keeping the audience’s attention and pointing us toward the real reason for the season and the songs. Between one song and another the director deviated from her routine to share a slice of humor about how the kids learned the call and response of the next piece in the program. She told how they seemed to follow the music better than she could. She explained that she would find herself directing the wrong side of the choir while the right one was singing.... when Jillian announced,

“I have something to say!”

Jillian proceeded to elaborate on the director’s version of how they learned the song and the silliness it wrought during rehearsals. She found her own memory of the event both interesting and noteworthy. She was compelled to share all the details with the rest of us. I can’t remember all of what Jillian said except that by the time she was done, I had tears of joy (primed by laughter) streaming down my face.

Mistakes are funny. Who can deny it? Isn’t it fun to laugh at ourselves? Isn’t it exciting to realize what we can overcome? Isn’t it marvelous when a 7 year old captures the attention of entire audience of adults doing something she shouldn’t do but delighting us all? Aren’t I lucky she is my little girl?

Afterward, someone asked me if I was embarrassed. I answered, "Yes," but I should have said, “No.” In retrospect, my daughter’s blunder made me ridiculously proud. Proud that her joy in singing was evident. Proud that she can stand up in front of an auditorium full of people and tell a story. Proud that she can speak loudly and clearly. Proud that the nervousness of the occasion didn’t squelch her enthusiasm. Proud that she is confident enough to share her thoughts about things. Proud that 100 sets of eyes on her doesn’t change her one bit. You can dress her up, make her wear shiny shoes and tie a satin bow in her hair but Jillian is true all the way through. She is a wonderful, amazing, funny, beautiful and bright little girl and I have a feeling, Jillian will always have something to say....

Monday, December 10, 2007

I Held A Memory

A few weeks ago, I held a memory. Have you ever tried it? It's a moment in time when, in that split second, you know it will never come again. It's gone. But you hold on to the moment. As long as you can. You try to make it last. When I think of the big moments of my life, they are really very small. I mean, I can't remember anything about my wedding. Do you? When my 3 children were born, I remember wanting to hold the moments forever, but I’ve lost so many pieces. They flew out of my grasp. Baptisms, Holidays and Funerals are all significant occasions, but my will has been too weak to hold them securely. They are some of the meaningful stuff of life that inevitably slips through my fickle fingers.

Words. What I seem to remember most are the words of friends. Words that chastise or encourage. Bits and pieces of advice that have stuck in my brain year after year. Songs my mother sung while she cooked and danced around the kitchen. Lyrics and poetry that speak truth to my heart. A prayer uttered on my behalf. Those are the memories that stick. I suppose that is why, when Christ came He was the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1). He knew we wouldn't easily forget His words.

Scent. Everything about my dad, smells. Don't laugh! For one thing, he is one of those old men who wears wonderful cologne. When I was a wee girl I sat upon the bathroom counter making sculptures out of Old Spice Shave Cream. I can smell it even now. It is one of my fondest memories. My dad also cooks a lot of Pakistani food. Every time I make cilantro, in anything, I think of my dad and all the days I sat upon the kitchen stool picking cilantro leaves for his cooking. I remember the gentle fragrance of the first roses I ever planted. I remember the rich aroma of redwood trees in the woods. I will never have an artificial tree because Christmas isn’t complete without the scent of the pine in my living room. When Christ sacrificed himself he became as a “fragrant aroma” (Ephesians 5). He knew we couldn’t easily forget the smell of him.

A baby. A few weeks ago I had the privilege of holding a baby. A woman I barely know had her hands full and I humbly asked if the baby would be content to let me hold him. I did. For an hour. 30 minutes later someone asked me the baby’s name. I didn’t know. Someone else had to tell me. Levi. Levi and I hung out for an hour while his momma taught the soccer class. My arms remembered the trickery of wielding a water bottle and a baby while walking downhill. My flabby stomach remembered the strength of an infant’s kick. My hips remembered the pressure of a baby sitting on them. My hands remembered the feeling of a full diaper. My face remembered the softness of an infant’s bald baby head against my cheek. I don’t know how long I can hold the memory of little Levi. It’s one I’d like to hold forever, but like so many things, I quickly forget. God, however, does not. Isaiah 49:15 reads "Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!”

When I think of my moments with Levi I’d like to remember that God condescended to earth in the human form of an infant. Jesus came as a helpless baby. New. Alive. Wonderful. As you ponder this Season of Christmas hold on to the moments and memories that draw your thoughts toward the living God, an infant, a fragrant aroma of offering and the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us. Remember why He came.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Wal-Mart Threw Up

The Wal-Mart Holiday aisle Threw Up all over my house! That’s right. Everywhere you look there are nutcrackers and pine branches and Santas and nativities and lights and red beads. Just last week, I was feeling Christmas-y and talked myself into buying a poinsettia for the center of our dining room table. Money is tight this year as we spent a lot in moving, but one poinsettia couldn’t hurt much, I reasoned. I got out Frank (Sinatra) and Bing (Crosby) and Andy and Harry and Celine and Johnny and put them on random play in my CD player. Today, breaking open bin after bin of garage fodder, I realize that red and green must be my favorite colors! I love Christmas!

Evan approached me and Joe a few days ago with a serious problem. He wanted to know what he could do to make Christmas be more about Jesus. It bugs him slightly that his sister believes in Santa Claus. It irritated him fully to see Christmas decor go up in stores after Halloween. It bothers his conscious that all around him people are focused on the trimmings and not on Christ.

Last year our family was focused on moving. We opened up all these boxes bins and picked through carefully choosing what would be easiest to take down again. Last year I was concentrating on celebrating Christmas by doing what was meaningful to the children. However, I didn’t want to do one thing more than necessary. I was especially cautious not to burn myself out. I knew last December that I had a long row to hoe after the holiday. I needed to have something left over. Last year I clung to the real meaning of Christmas with both hands. Last year, I meditated on “Emmanuel - God with Us”. Last year, I needed my Savior.

So as this year begins to unfold with Christmas leftovers from all the Christmases past, I take heart in taking out every little thing. The angel Kathleen gave me, the stockings my mother has handmade over the years, the book Delia sent us one year, the snowman our neighbors gave us, the pretty napkins I got from Linda last year, the cool English coasters I got from Jen. So many of these things are really memories. So many of these things stuffed in my boxes remind me of the special people God has seen fit to put into our lives. With each ornament I am reminded of a specific person or specific occasion. My heart is warmed again. It may look like Wal-Mart threw up all over my house, but in reality, LOVE threw up all over my house!

And in the midst of it all Evan has discovered one simple way of keeping Christ in Christmas. Everywhere we go, he makes a point of wearing his great big infectious grin when he wishes people Merry Christmas. He will probably come up with a few more ideas this year, but for now, I’m glad he has done the obvious - He gives his smile and he shares his joy.

I still need my Savior this year, but He will not be crowded out by the “stuff”. No, this year the “stuff” of Christmas represents the people, the family, the friendships and the fellowship Christ has poured out on us. The “stuff” is the fact that God sometimes manifests himself through others. The “stuff” is God’s goodness. The best stuff of all is knowing that God is with me. I’m so glad there is a season set aside to celebrate it all.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

In Every Season There is a Purpose

One of the things Joe and I longed for when we moved to Colorado in 2004, were Seasons. We went about noticing every change in temperature and every change in our yard. In San Jose, we had one tree, a crabapple, that entertained us over the year, but in Colorado, there were marvelous aspens which daily altered the view with differing shades of yellow and green. There was snow. There were thunderstorms. There was drama.

When we moved to Oakhurst, I was warned about rattlesnakes but was assured by my realtor that in all his years in the foothills of the Central Valley, he had never seen one. He was not alone. Lots of people live here and die here and never see one. Would I be so lucky? NO! Less than a month after moving in, a little viper showed his malevolent face just outside my door. This is not the kind of drama I need! I cried to God. We didn’t catch him. My war against rattlers had begun and we all know that war involves sacrifice.

In addition to watching out for rattlesnakes we also keep an eye out for velvet ants (they’re in the wasp family). Little pesky black ants (in my bathroom). Mosquitos. Tarantulas. Yellow jackets. Meat bees and once in a while, I find a scorpion in my garage. You’d think we lived in Bug Hell, but one thing Joe and I have noticed, is that these critters come and go. They, too, have their Seasons. Come see us in October. That’s when you can find tarantulas. If you visit in August, don’t mind the ant spray smell. In June, we’ve got june bugs. May, that’s when we do our bat watching and smother ourselves with mosquito repellent. But, if you come see me in November, grab a cup of coffee and watch my birds!

In Colorado I began marking up my bird book. I noted the date when the first nuthatches and juncos arrived, the time when the hummers would come and when they would go. I was learning to identify various finches. I met my first gilded flicker outside my window. To foster my hobby, I invested in all sorts of feeders, hanging hooks and the finest birdseed. I nurtured my interest by chattering with seasoned bird watchers at the bird store. Birder Bliss!

But here in California, I am at war and I intend to win! How? By eliminating rodents and other rattler prey. Rodents, of course, would be attracted to the droppings from bird feeders, thus, I relinquished my new hobby in interest of my family’s safety. Not the noblest gesture, but a necessary sacrifice. Nothing but a few hummingbird feeders hanging around my place now. But the birds have showed up anyway!

Yes, it is BIRD SEASON! I’ve been enjoying the trails of California quail, the blue jays and the variety of hummers and woodpeckers that frequent my yard. I’ve made a point of being content. I’ve been very grateful for the birds I have. But today and yesterday and perhaps the day before, the juncos and nuthatches and not less than 6 robins were flitting around my bird bath. We’ve seen rock wren, a blue bird and a gilded flicker, too. Could it be that in my contentment, God wishes to pour out His abundance? Could it be that in my willingness to let something go, God wishes to extend His compassion? Could it be that in relinquishing my plans, God wishes to administer better ones? I don’t think so. I know so.

An old Hymn says, His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me. Matthew 6:26 reads, Look at the birds of the air; do they not sow or reap or store away in barns and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? I don’t think so. I know so. For in every Season, and in every place, I am a precious child of God.

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Power of Perspective

Welcome to The Schneider Web. We have finally arrived in our new home in Oakhurst, CA. We've been introduced to nature at its finest here and have been gently reminded that there are beautiful things to enjoy everywhere you go. There is something powerful about perspective. There is also something powerful about taking things for granted. After living in a travel trailer with a spouse, 3 kids and a golden retriever, I won't take privacy for granted again! Neither will they. Everyone is excited to have some elbow room and we are excited to find ourselves, once again, in a new town.

In our first month we got right down to business. We began homeschooling, sought out the local homeschool group, saw the orthodontist, found a place for most of the games and toys, started killing the prolific poison oak in our yard and nearly got caught up on photo albums. Most everything is out of boxes. Much is not hung on the wall. The bathroom isn't decorated. The TV sits on an old table. We still haven't found Joe's favorite travel mug. But life is being lived every day.

There are things you can control like learning where they keep the Kikkoman Teriyaki Baste and Glaze in the Vons grocery store. And there are things that are out of your control, such as the number of hours in a day always falling short of one's "To Do" list. We pick and choose. We celebrate. We plan. We react. We ponder. And we know that the most important stuff of life, the relationships, can not be built in a day or in a month, but through seasons. You take a minute to examine the collection of precious things that your 9 year old shows you looking for ways to validate why they are so precious. You walk the dog. You notice that quail calls sound like squeaky toys. You lie on the driveway watching bats fly overhead at dusk. You savor the hugs of a 12 year old son who can now wear your shoes. You cry when you miss your friends. You thank God every day for seeing the hands and feet of Jesus through them. You cuddle on the couch with your kids reading one of the best books ever. Life is good.

Joe is reading Heaven by Randy Alcorn. Apparently, the author did extensive studies into scripture and tradition on the subject of Heaven, but I can't help but to think that to the extent we allow God into our day to day lives, to the extent that we allow God into the moment, whether it is trying or full of triumph, that is a moment of Heaven. You can read what Randy Alcorn says or talk to Joe about what he is gleaning from his book, but I happen to know that God manifested himself in both Humankind and in Creation. Everywhere we are and everywhere we go, He is there. We are blessed indeed when we have received the amazing grace that allows the blind to see the Divine at work today. We don't have to wait for Heaven to get a glimpse of God. Sometimes it is just a matter of perspective.... Shirin