What’s in my Christmas stocking on Christmas morning…

Sunday, December 4, 2011

What’s in my Christmas stocking on Christmas morning…

 

When we were young, our Christmas stockings were filled with treats. There was always an apple or orange stuffed down into the toe, and then layered on top were peanuts (in the shell) and candy canes and whatever candy was our favorite at the time. Somewhere, I still have that old red stocking from my childhood. I believe mine had one of those iron-on pictures of Santa giving gifts to some girls and boys.

But Christmas stockings didn’t become something to rave about until a little bit later in our lives. When I was a teenager, Mom decided to knit or crochet a Christmas stocking for everyone in the family. I can’t tell you what any of them look like anymore, except mine. For some reason, in my teenage years, I thought it would be wonderful to have a striped Christmas stocking—a nice, long one—with my favorite colors. Great idea, right?

Right, well, you see…no one told me that a nice forest green would look ridiculous with hunter orange and royal purple. Well—maybe that’s unfair of me. I think Mom did actually ask me if I was sure those were the colors I wanted. And I, in my great teenage wisdom, insisted that I was. Perhaps it’s been my pride that hasn’t allowed me to admit what a bad combination those colors were!

But, then, perhaps it is something else. The truth is that growing up with six siblings, I struggled for years with feeling like nothing was “mine.” Even the things I was interested in belonged to my siblings first (ie: music). As awkward as my stocking looked (looks), it is mine. It was made for me. It was given to me. It is about as bold and awkward and out of place as I am!

I think there’s a little bit of that in all of us. We look at our gifts, our strengths, our interests, and our struggles, and we wonder: How could all of these things work together? How can they meld together to make me something unique? How can they help me change the world? How, indeed! But they do.

I used to believe that God gave each of us one really big gift—like art, or teaching, or athletics, or making balloon animals. I think I was very, very mistaken when I believed that! Maybe you are better at one thing than many others, but please don’t believe that’s all you’re capable of. Please don’t believe that’s the most important thing in your life. It may just be that your passion for music will go hand-in-hand with your love for teaching. It may be that your gift for making balloon animals will help you in your missions work. It may be that your delight in reading will aid you in photography. You never know how those different interests and passions are going to complement one another.

That’s why I love my Christmas stocking. That’s why I can’t bring myself to tell you it was a bad idea to put those colors together—the same reasons I can’t tell you it was a bad idea for God to give me a passion for music and theology and writing. Though they have battled for my attention (and affection) for years, I am beginning to see more clearly that they are just different colors in the Christmas stocking that is my life. Together, they make me uniquely gifted to accomplish whatever it is God has for me.

So what’s in the Christmas stocking? A little bit of green…a little bit of orange…a little bit of purple…

…and sometimes peanuts.

All my love,

Aunt Sarah

How I prepare for Thanksgiving is…

Sunday, November 20, 2011

How I prepare for Thanksgiving is…

Thanksgiving is a magical time. There’s snow in the air, pretzels dripping chocolate all over the kitchen table (yes, even with the waxed paper, somehow I always manage to make a mess), a popcorn chain that’s never quite long enough, a final rush to finish my Christmas gifts, and—best of all—suddenly the rest of the world catches up with my love of Christmas music (secretly, I’ve been listening to Bing Crosby croon ‘Silver Bells’ since, oh, June-ish).

Thanksgiving is magical: The meal, the traditions, and the never-heard-enough Cool Whip story. But long before the day arrives, before the tree is up, before the bird is stuffed, there is something I have been compelled to do—a project that has consumed me for the last decade of pre-Thanksgivings.

The Snowmen.

Did you know that your Grandma collects Snowmen? She didn’t either, until it was too late! I’m not sure what started it, but it is such a fun tradition for me. Every year, I spend the weeks working up to the Thanksgiving shopping all around town to find the cutest and most unique Snowmen. Those with character end up with the year written in permanent marker on the underside (or somewhere not too obvious—which, believe me, can be difficult to find sometimes!), wrapped in tissue paper, and tucked away in a bag or a box or a crate for gifting. Then, on Thanksgiving (with a few exceptions—like this year, we did the Snowmen early so it wouldn’t interfere with everyone coming home for the Big Day), I give them to Grandma.

And every year, she gasps—she oohs and aahs and giggles like a child. “Oh! He’s got a little birdy!” “Look at that pudgy nose!” “It’s a Snow Family!” “They’re all holding shovels!” I don’t know if she’s really that excited about Snowmen, but she sure puts on a good show. So every year, a handful of Snowmen are added to the collection, and on Thanksgiving, when the tree is up and the decorations come out, she’ll be surrounded by Snowmen that she can enjoy all throughout the Christmas season.

To me, that is the greatest way to prepare for Thanksgiving. It puts my heart and mind in a spirit of being Thankful and of Giving.

And…it really does make your Grandma smile. That alone makes it worthwhile.

All my love,

Aunt Sarah

One Veteran I’ll never forget is…

Sunday, November 13, 2011

One Veteran I’ll never forget is…

 

His name was Mike.

He was born and baptized in a small village in Germany in 1838. At the age of 14, he and his family ventured across sea to a new home, a new world, a new life. They arrived in 1852 aboard Brig Hector and settled in Frankenmuth, a German community in lower Michigan. Though the family had not long called America “home,” Mike and his brothers proved their loyalty to her in their service during the Civil War. Mike’s great-grandson, Alois, wrote the following:

          When the first call for troops came in the fall of 1861, [Mike] and his brother John George joined the 3rd Michigan Cavalry. He served almost three years before he was captured by Southern forces while on scout duty. Johann Michael was tried and convicted of being a spy and sentenced to be shot. The day before his sentence was to be carried out, through some mistake of the Confederate officers, he was exchanged along with other Northern prisoners and spared.

Mike should have died. Mike was supposed to die. It boggles my mind to think about how he survived “by mistake.” Though Mike’s actions proved he was willing to give his life for his new country, he must have breathed a sigh of relief when he was released. And even after such an escapade, after being honorably discharged, Mike re-enlisted.

But really think about that—Mike should have died. The plan was for Mike to die. Before he met his wife, before he had any children (and boy, did he have a lot of children), before anyone except his parents and siblings would have missed him, Mike was supposed to die.

His name was Mike. And though there are many who’ve served in the course of our nation’s history that I’ll never forget, though each soldier has a story of his own that brings a chill to my spine, Mike is special. Mike was supposed to die, and he lived by accident. His name was Mike. His kids probably called him ‘dad.’ His wife probably called him ‘dear.’ My grandpa probably called him ‘grandpa.’

Johann Michael Schmitzer is our immigrant ancestor, my great-great Grandfather, your great-great-great Grandfather, the son of a tailor, a farmer by trade, a German by birth, a Lutheran by faith, a soldier who was sentenced to death, who, by some accident—by some miracle—was released.

If all had gone according to plan that day, there would have been no children (Ernst George Schmitzer); no grandchildren (Herman Carl Schmitzer); no great-grandchildren (Heidi Lynne Schmitzer); no me, no you. More than one man, more than one child or grandchild, more than one family: An entire clan would never have existed.

Do you feel a big sense of purpose in the world right now? I hope you do. I pray you do. So many men and women have given their lives to defend our liberty. For whatever reason, God saw fit to spare Mike that day—sparing you and me, as well.

This is your life, kids. What will you do with it?

All my love,

Aunt Sarah

My faith is…

Sunday, November 6, 2011

My faith is…

         I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

That is my faith. The Apostles’ Creed.

Maybe it seems like a cop-out that I don’t have anything original to tell you about my faith. In some ways, it is very original. I came upon these beliefs very personally and with great struggle. In another way, the beauty of it is that it’s not original—it is a rather common articulation of what the Church has believed for some time now.

I like what G.K. Chesterton said about Christianity, though: “I will not call it my philosophy; for I did not make it. God and humanity made it; and it made me.” Every day, it seems, I find myself asking whether I truly believe one point or another of this Creed. Every day, it refines me. Every day, it challenges how I live.

Faith isn’t just about the things you say you believe. It’s not about having some club where you feel you belong. And it’s certainly not about being “better” than the person next to you. Faith is about the very character of God. It’s about being persuaded that His testimony, His promise, His word is true. And if it is true, it ought to guard the way you live and speak and act; it ought to fill your heart with expectation of a Savior who will one day return; it ought to at least give you goose pimples when you whisper “and the life everlasting.”

That is my faith.

All my love,

Aunt Sarah

I’m afraid of…

Sunday, October 30, 2011

I’m afraid of…

 

Today, my buddy Ben and I talked about going to a Dude Ranch and learning to ride horses (and yes, I’m late getting this to you again—so by “today,” I really mean “almost a week after the date on the top of the page”). Once upon a time, Rodger was going to teach me to ride a horse. The memory came unbidden. I don’t even know why I remember it. It was a random piece of a conversation by letter before Rodger and I even met. He was going to teach me to ride.

He was going to walk me down the aisle, too, if I ever married.

And he thought I was spitting on him. I wasn’t. I promise. It was the camels. Never trust camels at Disney World. They’ll get you into trouble. (I mean, really—have you met Rodger? Show me one person who would dare to spit on him. Really.)

And that first episode of NCIS that I watched with him and Kristin—the one that Rodger had solved before I even understood what was happening.

He always encouraged me to finish school. I always wanted him to finish school, too. Rodger was one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever known.

I remember going to the Beirut Memorial and listening as he recalled the events of the bombing in Lebanon on his birthday in 1993 and how that shaped him as a person, how that birthed in him a desire to serve in the Marines.

He was so perceptive…if you offered even the slightest hint that you were interested in something (whether it was the history of the Marine Corps, the Beirut Memorial, that NCIS episode that I truthfully didn’t fully understand until about the seventh time watching it, or just those phenomenal [but ancient history] nachos at Applebees), Rodger went out of his way to share it with you—as evidenced by the fact that I’ve been digging into the family history recently, and when I arrived down south for his Memorial, my sister showed me the pages of notes he’d begun working on with names and marriage in his family.

He used to have hair. And when he didn’t have much anymore, he took our teasing graciously.

There are a million little things. And I’m afraid of forgetting. Help me to not forget.

If anyone wants to help me remember by learning to ride a horse…you know where to find me.

All my love,

Aunt Sarah