Friday, December 14, 2012

Reactions to today's tragedy in Connecticut

I've tried to start this post three times now and I'm still struggling for words to describe my feelings in light of today's shootings inside Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.  I'm somewhat frozen in disbelief that yet again innocent ones are gunned down in a public place. The horror is even greater because 20 of the victims were small children.  I am going to do my best to share what's been percolating up inside me while also tempering my words.

If it is too raw and ragged, I beg your forgiveness, in advance.

1 - First reaction - When are we going to do something to ban semi-automatic and automatic weapons?  

Yes, I understand our constitution provides the right to bear arms, but I do doubt our founding fathers ever imagined we'd have guns that can mow down multiple people with one pull of the trigger.  I suspect "bear arms" was meant to describe the right to hunt game to feed your family and defend yourself, your family or home if under attack. I don't think anyone does either with automatic or semi-automatic weapons, but some of us are determined to retain the right to own such a weapon. Semi-automatic and automatic guns are designed to kill people - this time little children included.  The NRA would tell you "Guns don't kill people. People kill people." Well, I say, "People aim. People pull triggers. Guns don't."
Oh, my, I edited out my summary statement. Here it is. Yet take the gun out of the statement and people live. 

2 - Second reaction - Suddenly, we've all dropped our defensive postures and angry rhetoric and we're recognizing the sanctity of life and the call to love one another.  

Finally, the nation is coming together expressing love and compassion for those suffering unimaginable pain and loss. Recently, I've become resentful of my friends bashing my political viewpoint and spouting online right wing media hype as if it is fact.  I have done my best to avoid political discourse because of the pain and injury it inflicts. Respectfully, I don't mind friendly discussions of differing opinions.  I simply wish we could all respectfully listen to each other without immediately dismissing others' opinions as wrong or vilifying those who don't share our political views.   Personally, I've been feeling pretty beat up.  I wish my friends would agree to disagree with me and love me just the same. I keep thinking - Aren't we called put love first?  At least, today we're speaking in love.  Check out Facebook and Twitter - It's refreshing to see posts of good will, love and compassion.  Yeah, there's the reactionary posts here and there, but how refreshing we all recognize what's tasteless and hurtful. TV media talking heads are asking us to pray, not telling us what to think.  It is incredible. 

3 - Third reaction -  I'm glad Christmas is coming.  At Christmas, we will sing about peace on earth, good will to men and in so doing seek healing for our broken hearts. We'll celebrate the birth of a savior who came as a defenseless child to save us from our sins. We need to be reminded there is hope one day we will have peace.  Today we are left wanting for we realize there are no guarantees in this life.  Thank God there is hope in knowing one day Jesus will return bringing peace to our broken world.  

4 - Final reaction of the day - I can't just sit here for too long or depression will set in.  

  I know the nation, and the world, will continue to grieve the senseless death of 20 children and their teachers.  Together, we have some hard work to do. We must honor those who lost their lives by living ours. We need to support those who will minister to the grieving children, teachers and their families so they too can return to their own lives.I can't close without stating I know I am called to even pray for the man who pulled the trigger.  I'm not there yet, but I'm sure because of what God's love did for my wretched self, I will. 

"For God so loved the world, he gave his one and only son, so whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal live." John 3:16  

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Secret Santa - an act of love.

During the holiday season, I realize many dread family gatherings because of family loss, estrangement or dysfunction.  Other families would love to gather, but distance, finances and/or work responsibilities make it impossible to get everyone together. I am sensitive to theses situations, but blessed that is not my situation.

My family is fortunate. I thank God every chance I get for being loved and the opportunity to love those God chose for me. We actually enjoy each other's company and have the means to travel and visit over the holidays, even if it's not everyone together in one place on one day.

Every year, our family grows adding members by love and by birth, making gift exchanges a blessing but a real challenge. To make things easier and hopefully avoid losing a crawling baby under the mass of discarded gift wrappings, the siblings' and expanding families now have a Secret Santa gift exchange every year.

We started the Secret Santa system several years ago when we realized the expense of purchasing gifts for a large and growing larger family was getting into the outrageous range.  Plus, as we grew up, we realized getting together was more important that getting gifts.  So, all adults (18 & up) are eligible to participate in the drawing and we limit the price of the gifts to keep it all in the range of reasonable.  Spouses who draw spouse's name must draw again, but siblings can draw siblings' names. The drawing occurs on Thanksgiving Day and my father draws for those not present and are notified via email of whom to shop for.   For a copy of Bylaws and drawing instructions, just ask, but good luck with that! So far, we haven't needed either.

That's it, but that's not all!

The gift exchange is easy, simple and straightforward alternative to mass gift giving, but I had no idea a Secret Santa gift exchange would actually keep us connected.   Over the years I've seen how the resulting covert communication, collaboration kept us close or in some situations gave us a reason to get in touch with one another.

For the next few weeks after the drawing via Facebook messages, emails and text, the Secret Santas collect gift ideas from spouses, siblings and parents of the recipient.  It is challenging, but the Secret Santa does learn a little more about their assigned family member and as a by product gets to catch up with others as they ferret sizing information and areas of interests.

In the end, only one other person shares our secret, so the identity of our own Secret Santa is unknown until the entire family, or at least the majority, can gather at Nonnie and Granddaddy's house.  All little ones are showered with multiple presents, so my parents' Christmas tree cannot contain the combined bounty of gifts. Even with space reductions provided by Secret Santa,  a fourth of the room is stacked with ribbon, bows, boxes and bags while the rest of the room is packed with parents, siblings, children, cousins, significant others and in-laws.  The noise might be unsettling to some, but we always manage to keep it festive, fun and relatively safe. (If gnawing on abandoned ribbons and paper is dangerous, I might want to say - safe for children 3 and over.)

Dad passes out the gifts one by one. Mom cooks a meal and unless we drag her out, she will end up missing a lot of gift opening.  The kids open their gifts first and run off to the den to play with their new bootie while the adults take turns opening gifts and discovering whom our Secret Santa was.

 It is fun to watch others open their gifts and see how well our secret communications resulted in matching the recipient's needs or desires with the final offering.  Shared winks and smiles flash and eyes twinkle confirm satisfactory collaborations and creative gift selections.  If there are any gift mistakes or mismatches, no one ever lets on.

Even though we work hard to select an appropriate gift, Secret Santa is never about loving the gift and always about loving the gifting and the giver.  My parents taught us that and I admit as a child, I was all about the gift itself.  Did it fit? Was it exactly what I wanted?  Only as an adult, could I see clearly what my parents already understood - a gift is just a representation of love, God's love.  I see the same in my nieces and nephews, but they will learn to recognize love is part of the package.

This year, my parents surprised us all and announced they will join the Secret Santa exchange for the first time.  They announced they will participate, but reserve the right to gift others as they have in the past. As I mentioned, there are no Bylaws and as matriarch and patriarch we could not, nor would not, refuse them anything. I look forward to them joining in on the fun.

I guess Mom and Dad, whom know and love each of us all best of all, won't find Secret Santa a challenge. I'm not sure if they will need to join in on the secret communications.  We'll just have to wait and see.  However,  I'm sure their Secret Santas are busy working the family grapevine and investigating gift ideas.  Surely, we won't be able to all pick the perfect gifts and the things we're given will eventually wear out, break, go out of style, but the love expressed in the giving will live on in us. God willing our Secret Santa will continue for generations to come and the love modeled will live on and on.   

1 Corinthians 13:13 "Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love"

Go Ahead - Google it!