Joan Brock

Thank goodness the holidays are over!

Each and every year the holidays present a time to gather, to give and to share with those we love and care about.  After the gift wrap is crumpled up and thrown away – after the New Year’s hats and horns are forgotten – you are usually a little brain dead and exhausted.  One year shortly after Christmas, I decided I needed to open my home and invite ‘the girls’ over.   I called it…
‘Thank goodness the holidays are over!’

Here were the rules sent in the invite;
* Bring anything you have that is a left over… with crumpled foil and all. (I guessed that appetizers and cookies would probably be the menu at hand.)
* Come in anything comfortable… sweat shirts and pants, slippers and non-Christmas worn sweaters are acceptable.
*Because of the massive need at the food banks, please bring a can or box of food.  They will be taken to the appropriate distribution center.

The fireplace was lit, non-holiday music was playing and they all showed up ready for a night of relaxation and laughter.  As they brought their leftovers, some with a drip down the side of the bowl, some with dried sauce on the rim… we were beginning to see the makings of a great meal.  From the remains of a cheese ball to Meatballs, from gourmet dips to vegetable dishes … everyone was enjoying the specialties from the tables of others. The food was yummy.  Some even copied down recipes for their favorite dish on hand, filing it away for next year.

No one cared what they wore or how they presented the dish of choice.  The left over Christmas paper plates and napkins were a variety of designs and sizes.  Several plopped themselves onto the floor near the fire and just enjoyed the friendships and a cup of hot apple cider or a glass of wine.  Conversations centered around how fortunate we are.   Eventually the topics also led into how hard this time of the year is for many we know and love.  Many are lonely, sick, struggling in finances and/or relationships.  The reality that these celebrations can be a time bomb for them became clear.  The realities of these issues were shared through stories of those we knew.  These examples of people we cared about only magnified how fortunate we were.

Helping through the small gesture of the contributions that we brought along that evening began to feel insignificant.  However, in the end, several grocery bags of food had been gathered, much more than I had expected.   Even though we knew the collected food wouldn’t be prepared with the loving touch of all of our leftovers from that evening, and it didn’t solve the problem of world hunger, they were given with the warmest of intentions.

Yes, ‘thank goodness the holidays were over’.  By the end of the season we are often burned out on the same music playing, the Christmas sweater you have worn too often and the same old food that you have eaten for two weeks.  It is a welcome moment to be done with all of that, but turning that sense of relief into action was helping us all to finish the precious season on an ‘up’ note.

In this New Year, possibly you can call a few people after ‘the holidays are over’, light a candle or your fireplace and share the food we are so fortunate to have.   Or, possibly you can call that lonely loved one and simply reach out to fill their heart with your words of support.   The need is great and the gesture is an easy one.

May 2011 be filled with good health, the comfort of one that wards off the loneliness and the sense of peace that we all pray for.

Happy New Year and God go with you all!

The Poinsettia Challenge

It's better to give...

Friends are an incredible source of life’s education and information.  The quote; “People are people through others.” Is a favorite of mine and this story demonstrated this to me.

I have known Tory for over 30 years, and we met during the days when we worked at the school for blind children.  We have both moved on and live far away from those days, but the friendship continues with sparatic calls and emails.

Some years ago I had an opportunity while passing through L.A. to spend time with Tory.  Now living in California, she drove us up Route 1 on the stunning coastline.   The convertible took us to a lovely spot for lunch.  Catching up with all that was happening in our lives also led to stories from the past.  Tory shared a Christmas moment that touched my heart… and has challenged me ever since.  I propose that this may also be a challenge for you.

Growing up in a small town in Iowa, most everyone knows everyone. 15 year old Tory had a little job at the local bookstore, run by old Jim. Business was slow one December and the conversation centered around the upcoming Christmas season.

“You know, Tory… the world is just so selfish. There are so many that are lonely and would give anything for even a simple chat with someone.” Said Old Jim.  “”Even stopping in at the nursing home and taking a poinsettia to a lonely soul, or something like that, and saying hello to one of those people that don’t have visitors, would be so easy.”  He continued.

Lost in thought as he looked out the window, he said, “I think about doing things like that, but I don’t know why I don’t do it.”
“I’ll do it.” Tory said.
“No you won’t.”
“When I say I will do something. I do it,” Said Tory looking at him with her big blue eyes, filled with conviction.

As Christmas Eve rolled around, Tory had not yet had the chance to complete her promise.  Stopping by the grocery store shortly after lunch she picked up a small poinsettia and headed for the nursing home on the edge of town.

Bundled up to brave the Iowa cold, she walked with a purpose and young Tory walked in the front door. She then spoke to the woman at the front desk.

“Hi. I was wondering… is there someone here that I might visit… someone that doesn’t have visitors, or something like that?”

The woman pondered for just a minute and said… “Well, yes, Mrs. P in room 112, bed A would be a good person for you to visit. I am sure she would love to have you stop in.”

Carrying the festive plant that she had saved for, Tory proudly walked down the hall, passing several in wheel chairs sitting in the hallway, greeting them as she passed them.  As she walked into the room, she stepped closer to the bed and she placed the poinsettia on the bed table where the elderly woman could see it.

“Hi. I’m Tory. My mom and dad are Darlene and Louie.  I think I remember you.”  Tory kept talking with a little nervous realization that the woman in the bed could not speak.

“I brought you a poinsettia… I thought you might enjoy having it?”

As she continued to just keep talking, she saw awareness in the eyes of the lonely soul.  She began telling her about all of the Christmas activities she and her family were going to be doing.  She told her about the weather and some of the sports things going on at school.

“Tonight I am going out with two of my girlfriends and we are going to go caroling in the neighborhood.  It’ll be cold, but it will be fun. We don’t sing to well, but that’s ok.”  Tory thought there might have even been a little smile in those eyes.

Not expecting that this visit would be a one sided conversation, Tory ended up chatting away for close to an hour and a half. Looking at her watch, she knew she needed to leave, and so she reached out and gave her new friend a gentle squeeze on her frail hand.

“Merry Christmas, Mrs. P. Maybe I can come back and see you again. I hope you enjoy the poinsettia.”

Tory left the room with a wonderful feeling.   Old Jim would be so proud of her.    As Tory walked down the hallway and out the front door, her knowledge of the gift she had given, the time she had spent and the challenge she had accomplished gave more back to her than she could have imagined.  Young as she was, the lesson was more poignant than she could put words to.

Early that evening she headed to her girlfriend’s house where they wer to meet and then start the caroling.   Shortly after she got there, Alice’s mom came home from her job at the very nursing home that Tory had been to.

“Mom,” said Alice, “are you ok?”
“Oh yes, I just feel a little sad.” Said her mother.
Tory stood there observing this exchange in silence and a certain curiosity.
Alice’s mom continued… “Just before I had to leave, I found out one of our favorite ladies passed away.”
Tory’s heart swelled.  Her whole body was tingling and time stood still for just a moment.  She hadn’t told anyone that she had been at the nursing home, she really hadn’t had time.  She really had just felt so good about it, and then life continued with other busy things.  Tory stepped forward and spoke softly…

“Do you know… did… did the woman happen to have a poinsettia sitting on her table?” Asked Tory.
“Why, yes, Tory. She did.”
“Was her name Mrs. P?”
“Yes.  How did you know?”

Tory began to share her little challenge from Old Jim and explained that she had been the one to bring her the beautiful Christmas plant.  She told them about talking and talking the whole time because Mrs. P couldn’t talk.  Alice’s mother at that time confirmed that she had had a stroke and that she had no remaining family.

As Tory and I sat by the ocean, she reliving this poignant moment in her life, Tory said she felt sad, but also felt a sense of joy and peace in a way that she couldn’t completely explain.  Yes, she had fulfilled a challenge, but the gift given back to her was more than she could express.  She has always wondered if she was the last person to have spoken with Mrs. P?  Were those eyes filled with understanding?  Did she feel comfortable enough to let go, and go to be with the baby Jesus?

Tory still visits nursing homes.  She finds someone who is lonely, which I would guess isn’t too difficult.  She doesn’t just visit during the Christmas season, but when this precious time of ear comes around, she does deliver a poinsettia.

I propose that, instead of wondering; ‘I don’t know why I don’t.’… this beautiful Christmas season, Maybe you would consider to stop by the store an pick up a little Christmas plant and take it to someone who is lonely, sad or just needing the lift … you never know what that small gesture will do for a precious soul… and you have no idea what it may do for you.

Thanks for allowing me to tell your story, Tory.

God go with you all in this coming New Year, and…Merry Christmas!

Joan Brock