Tis the season of busyness and preparations for the holidays. Presents bought and wrapped. Baking. A surprise visit and present from my son. It is Dean and I’s heart to get these holiday greetings sent via postage mail long before Christmas week. Please know that you are in our hearts year round. Christmas joy has filled our home, peace with God and grace to all people despite any differences. This snowy Christmas Eve is the slow-down to reflect on His Gift, Jesus, lessons from 2017 and what is hoped for 2018. The 4 Advent Sundays reminded us of this moment. Father Peter shared at Mass tonight the Christmas story, how there was no room for Joseph, Mother Mary, and the birth of baby Jesus. A meager manger would be the chosen place of His birth. It was asked how many of us would say the same “no room at our house”? “What would you do if Joseph and Mary came knocking on your door tonight? Do you have time to deal with this? Can you make space in your house without resentment or casting judgment? Would you empty the tool shed or a spot in the garage? Would you charge high $$ to profit from this situation? Or worst yet, steal their possessions, what little the guests have? Scriptures tell us “What you do to the least of my brothers, you do unto Me.”
“Family” would summarize our year of 2017. As a reminder, Dean and I have 6 children, 5 in-law children, 6 grandchildren, 3 parents, 5 siblings and their families, and we cannot forget our dog, Midnight and cat, Celine, the 7 grand dogs, and 3 grand cats. Dean and I began 2017 in Key West, Florida with his parents and siblings, an 80th birthday celebration for Dean’s mother. Such a while ago, but lovely memories of the beach breezes, discovering new sites, and time with family. We still have our greeting card boxes that niece Amelia made each of us. After the hurricanes there, I suppose the scenery is quite different. In a couple of days warmth awaits us in San Antonio, where we will meet up with Dean’s son, AJ, Nancy, Elise, and Nancy’s family there. Spiced rum eggnog, homemade chicken soup, Christmas carols, and having each other will keep us warm tonight …
In February my daughter, 33-year old Elisabeth was diagnosed with 2 types of breast cancer, stage 1 and stage 2. Elisabeth went through a strict regimen of chemo treatments, hair loss, zapped energy and strength. She had a double mastectomy and reconstruction this summer. We are so very thankful to our Father as she has been given a cancer-free diagnosis in July. Elisabeth is regaining her strength and hair while under hormone therapy and low-dose chemo. Her husband, children, family, friends, and all the supportive, praying communities continue to surround her. Her bravery and fighter personality helped Elisabeth stay above. I reached out for prayers by many women, visited church 1-block from my office to take part in many noontime prayer vigils, and Dean and I together continue to provide a quiet and calm home while she heals.
Refreshing spring brought us to the completion of our 2-room addition. It took a whole year, but it is beautiful and has provided the much needed space to our home. At this season of our lives we share our home with my daughter and her family. More warmth with the woodwork, a set of barn doors matching the stained doors in the rest of the house as well as a high ceiling to heighten the spacious floor layout. We use the 2 rooms as a family room/dining area and an extra bedroom that Elisabeth and Mark can rest their heads in. In May Dean and I spent almost a week in the Smoky Mountain region of our beautiful states. Experienced the AirBnB hospitality for this vacation. We loved Gatlinburg, TN and Asheville, NC. Antiques, the arts, and foodie places were our hangouts. Of course, a few walks in the woods. There was a sign warning us, and you know the saying “hindsight is 20/20”. Dean drove the Dragon’s Tail Highway with all its hairpin turns, not understanding what we were in for. I was very close to losing lunch during that ride. We tried the glamper scene one night in the middle of nowhere land. And we stopped in Nashville for a night. Love the nightlife there with all the honky-tonks and country music.
Weekend trips to Lee’s Summit and Farmington keep us on the road at least once a month visiting with children, grandchildren, and Dean’s parents. When we are home we read, write, catch a music venue or new foodie joint in St. Louis. And there is always those weekend chores. We garden and mow at the greenhouse site on Boone Hollow Farm near Defiance 7 or 8 months out of the year. This year’s gardening included a voluntary cherry tomato plant that literally took over the whole vegetable bed from July until the October frost killed it. We dubbed this plant as “Audrey” from the play/movie Little Shoppe of Horror. We made a delicious green tomato marmalade from the abundance of fruit left after the killing frost. Our perennials are inside now, and our bird of paradise is about to bloom again under the plant lights in the garage. Autumn brought Dean and I a steal-away weekend to Pella, Iowa. We loved this Dutch town so much, we are planning a Mother’s Day weekend there with our mothers.
My occupation as the employee wellness coordinator of St. Louis County is the work God called me to this season of my life. We had our Billion Steps Challenge using Fitbits and a web portal called One Community. With two 8-week walking challenges this spring and summer, we cleared the 1 billion steps goal and went well over 2 billion steps amongst 2800 participating employees and spouses. I have been asked to speak along with a panel at the St. Louis area American Heart Association’s Wellness Forum in February discussing employer wellness budgets on a shoestring. Personally, my biometric numbers were improved substantially with the walking challenges, and my primary care physician is thrilled. The walking culture continues through winter. Dean, Midnight, and I still take an evening constitutional almost every night. At 20 degree temps, I declined tonight. Hives or worse a visit to the emergency room would not be good. Dean’s occupation with the National Archives keeps him going, and work he was called to as well. He loves the hunt for military records especially for his family and friends.
Our youngest granddaughter, Elise has captured her Grandpa Dean’s heart. I think he counts the days until he can see her again. This Father’s Day was a wonderful gathering of Dean’s children and their families with us at our home. The red children’s swing in our sweet gum tree remind us of that special weekend. We had a Gall Family Thanksgiving at Rainer and Erica’s newly bought house in St. Louis City, and a birthday gathering for Dean the following day at a local bakery cafe. Another day that weekend we celebrated my oldest grandchild, Hannah’s 16th birthday. Church every Sunday and occasional birthday celebrations and plays keeps us in touch with my mother and family. While celebrations and victories punctuate our year, so does illness and death. Dean’s extended family lost a cousin recently. Cancer, this wicked stuff. Keep Mike’s wife, Terri and 2 daughters in your prayers please. Another extended family member is undergoing treatments ; please say a prayer for Marion, our son-in-law’s father. My oldest daughter, Rachel has multiple medical conditions, her conditions declining, which cause severe pain. In 2018 I plan to take more time off from work each month to help Rachel with the kids and house. Please bathe Rachel in your prayers.
What room do you have in your heart, home, and life for the least of these My brothers? What has God prepared you for this very night, or the 365 days in 2018? Blessings to you this eve of Jesus Christ’s birth. As the carols sing … “Christ was born to save! Christ was born to save!”… “He rules the world with truth and grace and makes the nations prove the glories of His righteousness and wonders of His love, and wonders of His love, and wonders, wonders of His love.” Joy to the world!