Dee's Blog
www.takecourage.org
Thu 12/27/2007
Music for the New Year
Topic: music
Thanks to my precious virtual assistant Renae and my good friends Dave and Bette Rod, music--lots of music--is now available in several places on my site. Including at the top of www.takecourage.org/AboutSite.htm In addition to the Rally Song, you’ll find much more on Bette’s CD if you check out the links from the Rally Song.

You may want to purchase Bette’s CD. It has been a huge blessing to me in my work and personal life, as well as to many I know.

For the next few days, as I take a break, may I suggest that you take one of Bette's songs each day as you prepare for a new year.

I'll catch you again on January 3.  May you continue to have meaningful holidays.


Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Thu 12/13/2007 2:39 PM CST
Wed 12/26/2007
No Santa!
Topic: Christmas

So did you find Santa somewhere yesterday? 

 I remember well when I first discovered that this jolly soul was really a figment of my imagination, created skillfully by the adults who needed for me to believe.  Perhaps even to make up for their own lack of magical sense from their days of growing up in the Great Depression. 

Guess it was window into my personality, showing that I expect people to speak the truth literally.  Even when it came to the "white lies"--whether dressed in red, along with the white, or not.

I was just furious when I found out my parents had lied to me.  I confronted them with a vengeance.  At age six!  I told them I would never believe another thing they said.  Oh, how I ranted and raved! 

"You tell me that it's a sin to lie!" I said, with as much fury as I have often felt because of much more serious lies that the institutional church has told to cover up evil.

They tried to tell me that it was all so I could just have fun.   It was all just play, they insisted. 

I didn't see it that way.  Truth is that it probably WAS years before I forgave them.  I didn't care if parents everywhere in the country told their kids the same myth.   They should tell their kids that it wasn't true, I insisted.  They were all at fault!

As an adult, I go along with what other people teach their kids about Santa.  I don't think it's a moral issue to talk about this mythical man as if he was real.  I just never had the heart to do it with my own children.  I was way too traumatized. 

One set of my grandchildren believe in Santa still.  The other does not.  It will be funny (I hope) when someday those two approaches collide so that the truth is revealed.  At least, interesting.

Sometimes, it seems to me, that much of what we teach our children about God is closely aligned to the Santa myth, too.  Maybe because we as adults "need' to believe even more than the kids.


Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CST
Tue 12/25/2007
A Meaningful, Magical Christmas
Topic: Christmas

Whether this day turns out to be "merry" or happy, I certainly hope it is a meaningful day for you.

The external power of capitalism is very closely kin to the imperialistic power of the Old Testament, the power that Jesus’ teachings tried to refute.

In Old Testament days, the kings and warriors believed that God was on their side. They evoked God’s power and even wrote about how they believed God had spoken and caused miraculous things to happen in order to destroy their enemies. Ironically, the people who claimed to be on God’s side didn’t always show that in reality. How convenient it was, though, to declare that God was on their side and to sculpt the story of the Jewish people to mount the evidence that would show this.

Jesus came along and debunked all of that. He focused not on what we think of as power at all. Certainly not the Zorro kind of power that protects some people and not others. Jesus message was that the power of God is within people who recognize this to be the case.

It’s the kind of power that can do all things possible WITHIN us and sometimes changes within us can result in changes outside of us. Yet real power doesn’t come from external sources. It starts deep within us, in our souls.

The sad thing is that we often have covered over that power so much, focusing on the external things or magical events, just as people have done throughout the centuries, crediting God and blaming God and arranging so many “miraculous” things that we can see with our own eyes, that we cannot even imagine the Power that Jesus was trying to help us find, the Power that is already within us through God’s grace.

It is this realization coming to earth, helping us to discover that we already have all that we need-- that is the True Magic of Christmas!


Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CST
Mon 12/24/2007
"Christianity" Gets a Challenge
Topic: Christmas

An early December episode of “Aliens in America,” Raja asked the Tolchuk family to help him understand more about their spiritual life. Especially at Christmas, a season he was having difficulty fully comprehending as a Muslim.

As always, the show was a delightful mix of hilarious irony and wisdom that comes because of Raja’s gentle spirit that comes across along with his incredibly mature philosophy that stands in such charm contrast to his host family, the Tolchuk’s, who are filled with so much hostility and are extremely skilled at selfish manipulation as they struggle with issues raised because of Raja’s humble presence in their lives.

Raja has a servant attitude, always seeking to learn and grow. He seems to understand, especially in this episode, a lot about what Jesus came to teach us when it comes to power.

The Tolchuk’s scramble to find their old church, only to discover that it’s been turned into a fast-food restaurant! In the process, they discover painful realities about how much they had preserved within themselves a belief system that worships external power. In the process, it becomes clear how much we all need to change if we are to align ourselves with a power that is important.


Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CST
Sun 12/23/2007
Our Korean Christmas Gift
Topic: Christmas

My most memorable Christmas came in 1955. With the arrival of what I came to call “our Korean Christmas gift.” My little sister wasn’t wrapped in shining paper. Or anything bright and colorful. She came on a jet plane. First to California. Dressed in one of those old-fashioned, paper-thin baby dresses that were common dress for summer infantwear back then. It would have been sized “3 months” if there had been an American manufacturer involved. For Lydia, though almost 15 months old, weighed 14 pounds. She could not even turn over!

It was the dead of winter with beautiful snowflakes falling to decorate the evening when a stewardess walked across the runway carrying this vulnerable baby who had been placed, just the day before, in a sturdy box just large enough for them to call “a bed” and loaded along with scores of other infants and toddlers on a plane without seats. These children were known as “war orphans” because so many of them were fathered by American soldiers who had abandoned their convenient lovers, leaving them and their children destitute and treated like trash, once the war was over.

Somehow my parents had been forewarned that they needed to send an extra change of clothes, something warm, along with a heavier blanket for her arrival. And so she came on a snowy night. With no instructions. To families who knew nothing about the culture and didn’t know the importance of many things that we know now (and are still trying to learn) about caring for such children who come from afar. The thought that they might have a child so fragile that she could die the day she arrived--that was something that apparently never entered my parents’ minds. Nor the agency’s. These children were desperate, and their new parents held high aspirations with little understanding of the issues or challenges ahead.

My mother wrote last week that December 17 always seems like Lydia’s birthday. It was a new beginning for all of us. For this dear child, who would never be able to reconstruct her past as much as she’d like, never be able to find her biological mother, nor the father who tossed her aside for whatever reason and with whatever feelings he might have experienced, this woman who now wonders  how she possibly coped in an orphanage where the kids were forced to live on rice water, it was time to catch up on a lot of things.

I sent her a little Christmas angel this year, with a note telling her that she has so many times been, for me, like an angel in my life. One who came as such a blessing, to a family that had very, very little left to share materially. Yet, paradoxically, we had everything we wanted!

 

 

 


Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CST
Fri 12/21/2007
Counter-Culture for the Holidays?
Topic: Christmas

Come January, if you ask most kids about their Christmas, they’ll talk about what they got from Santa Claus or their parents. That’s the first thing that comes to mind for children. That’s where they go with the word association that comes with “How was your Christmas?”

It’s so hard, in a capitalistic world, to not focus on external things. After all, we depend on sales being up almost as much as we depend on electricity. Having lived in a world that didn’t care about either, I’m torn between what I’ve known most of my life and what I knew in my adopted country of Malawi. Always aware that I have a wider array of choices in my awareness because of that international experience that seeped into the fragment of my being.

Since returning to the United States in 1987, I have tried to live a somewhat counter-culture existence when it comes to the holidays. Instead of joining the rush of shoppers in December, my preference is the hibernate. Partly because I’ve never liked procrastinating. Or crowds. Nor do I really like a lot of rituals. I’d prefer that every day of my life, at least in some small way, be filled with something I do differently than ever before.

So December is a time to reflect for me, to keep things as simple as possible most years, to look at all the things I do not need, and to focus on relationships and self-improvement so that the coming year will be filled with the hope created by the spiritual renewal that was what I believe Christ really wanted to bring to us.


Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CST
Thu 12/20/2007
Selective Memory--a Coping Skill for Christmas
Topic: Christmas

And then, one morning last week, I experienced such a moment when power and love and sorrow and peace and joy all seemed to settle in at once. In the course of an hour, I found myself crying and laughing, joking and voicing compassion with loved ones.

It happened when a dear aunt called to tell me of the death of the sister of another dear aunt, the latter with whom I have no biological connection since she came into our family by marriage. While I never met the beloved sister of Aunt Jan, I’ve known that the sister has been critically ill for some time.

In the sweet conversations with my aunts, we talked about how difficult it is to have lost someone dear at holiday time. My biological aunt reminded that my grandmother, only 48, had died suddenly two weeks before Christmas, way back in 1948, making every Christmas since a bittersweet time for those who loved her.

The same has been true for my mother, who lost a sister only a year older than she, when she was only in 4th grade.

Yet, even though the loss had come only a few hours earlier the morning I received last week’s call, Aunt Jan wanted to focus most on the great times she’d had with her sister in the past few days. Her life had been filled with good stories and memories, and that’s what mattered so much.

As we prepare for Christmas, may we use selective memory--focusing not on the times when we felt powerless and sorrow. Yet, even as those times come to mind, as they inevitably will, may we focus on the power and love and peace and joy that remains in us because of the Spirit of God that can be found in each of us.


Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CST
Wed 12/19/2007
Power Failure and Other Powers
Topic: Christmas

A few days ago we experienced power failure in many parts of the Midwest. Electrical power failure that is. A power most of us cannot begin to understand, but we use it every day. It makes life convenient. Without it, we find our existence altered.

Yet people existed without electricity for most of history. They would have laughed to even think of the possibilities that exist for us because of this very scientific invention!

It began effecting our family first in Oklahoma. While their family never lost power, close neighbors did. So their comfort and survival became a concern of our daughter who was trying to meet the needs of her own household. Schools were closed. I think some still are.

A few days later the ice hit Kansas City hard. Our son took time off work to care for his preschool daughters, using the time to bake and decorate sugar cookies. Until their power failed!

That’s when the family had to draw on their own internal power--the power of problem-solving. To stay warm and sustain themselves, a fire was built in the fireplace where the girls curled up together and slept all night, perhaps making memories that will remain in their young minds as treasures of togetherness. No doubt, knowing that family, with a fair amount of humor, too, somehow. And gratitude that they all were able to get safely to school and work the next morning, where there WAS power.

Strangely, as I waited for news and watched the weather predictions and reports of spotty power failures here in Iowa, I began thinking of what power has to do with Christmas.

Not the electrical power, of course, but power to change things. Especially to change us. Power to change us so that WE become the change that we long to see in this world. Including the power to accept the things we cannot change. To adapt to those things and find joy in spite of whatever the circumstances.

It occurred to me that the most blessed Christmases may be those when we are drawn closer because of the unexpected, unfortunate, or even the unwelcome challenges that life brings us.


Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CST
Tue 12/18/2007
My Favorite Carol
Topic: Christmas

I played it recently to start off our Christmas recital, only days after the mall shooting here.  Because I thought it was especially pertinent.

More pertinent because of the story that brought it to us.  The story of the writer of the words, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

"I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" is American--I had always assumed it to be European.

The message came from deep inside Longfellow in 1864, months before the Civil War ended.  Not only was Longfellow against the war and saddened when his son went off to fight, his agony was multiplied because that son had recently been seriously injured.  It was an injury that left him crippled.

Yet the war and his son's condition had not started the writer's despondency.  That had occurred when he'd lost his second wife to an untimely death, leaving him with a houseful of children to raise.   The event of her death had been so traumatizing that he must have suffered from PTSD for years afterwards, perhaps still at the time of writing this carol. 

This wife had set her dress on fire by accident while in the room with their children.  She'd run to him in her terror, where he was working in his study.   Longfellow had tried desperately, but in vain, to save her.  In the process, he'd been seriously burned himself, so seriously that he had not even been able to attend the funeral as his children mourned this sudden loss.

It wasn't his first loss of a wife.  Decades earlier, his first wife had died of a sudden illness at a very young age. 

The raging war seemed to be nowhere near the end that Christmas Eve when he sat down to write "for hate is strong and mocks the song."  Yet, somehow he found enough sanity to look at possibilities that must have seemed totally idealistic that Dec. 24th.  Somehow he found enough faith to state his belief:  "God is not dead, nor does He sleep.  The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men!" 

OK--maybe it's way too idealistic for how you are feeling today.  Maybe you can't tolerate the traditional way of envisioning God.  Nor the gender issues of the words themselves.  Some of it bothers me at times, too, I'll admit. 

For 1964, with a brilliant man who had sustained great losses and could only envision something in his fantasies, it still gives me a lift each time I hear it.  More so, each time I play it.

So what carol are you most likely to "play" this year?


Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CST
Mon 12/17/2007
The Funniest Christmas
Topic: Christmas

Normally, I like to have plans made in advance.  Especially at Christmas.  Always have except for one year.

That was the year we started out the door, only to met by two other missionary families who were about to knock on our door.  To sit at our table for Christmas dinner.  While we were thinking that we'd agreed to go to one of their houses!!

Not to worry.   It wasn't the first time they'd been to my house when everything wasn't ready for company.  It didn't matter that the floors weren't spic and span.  Or that I'd left dishes in the sink from making whatever I was taking to to contribute to the feast.  (Maybe potato salad.  I don't remember.)

Fortunately, we had the meal planned, complete with assignments for each of us to round out a dinner as American as could be assembled in central Africa.

"Give me fifteen minutes," I pleaded.  "The tablecloths aren't ironed, and I refuse to put anyone at my table for Christmas without at least a tablecloth. 

If I'd known they were coming to my place, I would have spent a couple of days getting ready.  Same would have been true for Judy, the lady I thought was to be the hostess.  

It reminded me that many things we do for the holidays do not matter one iota.  In the end, who really cares?

That Christmas was more fun than the potato salad year.  A little cooler, too, fortunately. 


Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CST

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