Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Praying for Santa

In spite of consisting of (mostly) devout Christians, my family firmly and fervently loves Santa Claus.

Every year as far back as I can remember, Santa has visited our Christmas Eve party.

Rehfeldt Christmas Eve parties are the stuff of legends. We head out in the winter weather to sing carols, enjoy fantastic family favorite foods (Aunt Judi's Chocolate Chip Cookies, Grandma's Potato Salad, and Tammy's Reuben Dip, etc.), and listen as Grandma reads the Christmas story from the Bible. We watch little kids sing songs and quote verses.

We hear a poem from Aunt Jan, laugh our way through one of BJ's mind-bending skits, and shed a tear or two during a sentimental reading of Christmas past. We play Uncle Scott's crazy games and catch up with our long-lost relatives who traveled over hill and dale to attend the party.

But there is always that magical moment.

The moment when Uncle Scott holds up the sleigh bells and merrily jingles them to the delight of everyone in the room. An electric tingle races through the room.

We switch from singing Silent Night and O Little Town of Bethlehem to Jingle Bells, Frosty the Snowman, and the grand finale...Santa Claus Is Coming to Town. The singing gets louder and louder until the very last word is sung. When the last note dies out, a hearty HO, HO, HO rings out as Santa makes his entrance.

He waddles into the room resplendent in red and white, a huge sack thrown over his shoulder. He makes some glib comment about his reindeer and settles himself next to Grandma in a comfy chair at the head of the room. He digs deep into his bag and pulls out a present.

"Noah? Is there a Noah here?"

And before you know it, Noah is perched atop Santa's lap as photos are snapped, the flashes nearly blinding. No one is safe from Santa. No matter how old you are, there is always the possibility of getting called to sit on Santa's lap, the requisite requirement to receiving your gift.

Santa was there when I was a child, and Santa will be there for my child. Santa lives on.

Many men have contributed to Santa's long-standing longevity. There was the first Santa, my grandfather. I have a treasured family photo that shows a little red dress bedecked ragamuffin (yours truly) sitting on Grandpa Santa's lap, although I don’t remember it.

Over the years, my Uncle Timmy, Cousin Brad Molander, and even my dad helped fill Santa's shoes.

But the man who has pulled on those red trousers more than any other, the Santa of my childhood, is my Uncle Dave.

Any other time of year, Uncle Dave is one of those uncles.

You know the kind I mean. The loud uncle. The one with the constant beard stubble and the gruff voice. The one with a cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other. He's the one person who always calls you "kid" no matter how old you are.

Underneath his hard-boiled exterior, however, lurks the teddy bear, revealed in small doses through sly winks, hair-tousling, and the rare and treasured hug.

How Uncle Dave inherited the Santa job from Grandpa I'll never know.

He is certainly not sentimental like Uncle Timmy, not gregarious like Uncle Scott, not uber-intellectual like Uncle Ronnie, and not likely to be featured in the pages of GQ like Uncle Bruce.

Perhaps what Uncle Dave real. Making it especially ironic that he slips into his Santa persona, into character as one of the most fabled fiction entities of all time, with an ease the most seasoned actor would envy.

For those few minutes every year, Uncle Dave IS Santa. Even long after I figured out exactly who was hiding under that beard and felt-tipped hat, I found it easy to trust Santa walked among us.

If it was only for ten minutes a year, I had the opportunity to relive my childhood through that gravelly voice, the familiar belly laugh, and the slightly smoky hug I got from the man in red.

(As kids, we were told the “fireplace aroma” was from all the chimneys Santa had been sliding down!)

But this year is different.

This year, Santa was told he is suffering from six cancerous lesions on his brain. Stage four brain cancer.

My Uncle Dave is fighting back with all his typical bravado. Going up against cancer with a ferocity that should make cancer shake in its boots. You do not mess with Uncle Dave.

And you especially do not mess with Santa.

When asked, his doctor said he will be fighting a losing battle. Uncle Dave has not given up though, because Rehfeldts don’t give up. We trust, we pray, we love, and we hope.

I know Santa will never die. Santa will still come to our party. He will hand out gifts and delight children and adults alike. It will be his voice our children remember as they look back on their holiday memories.

But the man underneath, in all the white fur and red velvet trappings, will know he has some big shoes to fill.

We are Christians. We believe in miracles. We believe God can heal Uncle Dave if it is His will. It would be an answer to prayer to have Uncle Dave distributing presents and ho, ho, ho-ing his way down the aisles again.

Personally, I want Sam to receive his first Santa gift from Uncle Dave. But I know it will take an act of God.

It is because of this, I ask you to join my family in praying for Santa. Because while we love Santa, we firmly and fervently believe in God.

And we believe God can save Santa. In more ways than one.

Thank you for your prayers!

Monday, November 09, 2009

The Never Mets

Sometimes, I just sit back and think about people who I have never met.

People who have influenced my life without ever knowing it.

Like the guy who started the Africa Prayer Band at Moody in the 1960’s.

That’s where my parents met - Mom praying fervently on her knees for Africa, and Dad staring at the pretty girl in the tight sweater. Not thinking, I’m guessing, all that much about Africa.

One of my favorite “never-mets” is DL Moody. Good, ol’ DL.

I think about how he started a school where eventually my parents met, then Brett and I met, and I start getting a little sentimental about the guy.

In my mind, DL is sort of like Hagrid in Harry Potter. It’s not just that they look alike (although they do), but they seem like genuinely nice people who want to help people as much as they can.

To me, DL is sort of like my really, really old uncle.

If you know me at all, you know I resist jumping on bandwagons. I like to take my time and formulate an opinion on whatever the topic is.

Recently though, I noticed a lot of my Facebook friends and family were joining the same group.

Now, my friends are a very diverse group of people. I’ve got conservatives and liberals, homeschooling/organic /granola moms and career women, old school chauvinists and ardent feminists, etc.

Now, I obviously care about them all. After all, they *are* my friends.

However, because of their variety, it was very rare to see everyone virtually supporting the same cause.

Not Starbucks or Farmville. Not Li’l Aquarium or the Happy Sunshine Gardner. Not even the enormously popular “Add a Dislike Button to Facebook.”

It was the Pray for Sydney Ives group.

I didn’t know Syndey, her parents or even - I think - anyone in her extended family.

But a LOT of my Facebook friends knew her or her family and were joining this group.

So, I got curious.

I googled Sydney Ives and learned she was a local 11 year old girl with a brain tumor. At that time, I decided I would join the Pray for Sydney Ives group on Facebook and would pray for her and her parents.

This past Sunday, I was scanning updates on Facebook and learned Sydney had passed away.

I was sad. It is always sad when children die. It’s the normal human emotion to feel.

But then I pulled up the posted YouTube videos and listened to the family’s message of overwhelming faith and outpouring of blind trust in God’s perfect will, and I began to sob.

Both Sydney and her parents demonstrated tremendous faith in God’s will. Whether Sydney would live or die, they wanted God lifted up and glorified in the circumstances. As a result, their pleas for prayer and the turquoise (Sydney’s favorite color) ribbon campaign lit up places as far away as Nepal and South Africa.

They built off of Lance Armstrong’s “Livestrong” campaign, using their last name as a springboard for “Ivestrong.”

I watched those videos, and I began to think about when Sydney was a baby. I thought about how her mother had no idea she would have such an (earthly speaking) short time with her.

Of course, that made me start thinking about Sam. I started crying at the prospect of losing him even as I held him in my arms. I know our children are “on loan” from God, but knowing it and bravely living it are two very different things.

Other friends have blogged about Sydney. They knew her in person and were able to capture her spirit and loving, joyful heart, even in those last days. They have blogged her dear family’s witness far better than I ever could.

I speak as an outsider. I have watched this family’s testimony from afar and have been humbled and heartbroken by their sorrow and their loss.

But (heavenly speaking), I am not an outsider. I am Sydney’s sister and her friend. I did not have the pleasure of knowing her here on this earthly sphere, but I will sing with her someday far above the clouds.

I send my warmest condolences to the Ives family as they mourn this passing and look hopefully to the day they will all be reunited.

And I add Sydney to my “never-mets” list – the list of people who have changed my life without ever knowing it.

And I look forward to singing in that heavenly choir alongside my father, my sweet aunt Kathy, kindly DL Moody, and now brave and forever cancer-free Sydney Ives.

More on the Ives family:

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Gossip Girl

Did you know today is National End Gossip Day?

I can’t say I’ve ever been all that hurt by gossip. When you’re a 300 pound teenager, you’re already aware of how people perceive you. There aren’t a whole lot of surprises.

And while I can’t say many good things about my middle school bullies, they were boys and therefore didn’t gossip about me as much as shout things to my face.

I wish I could say I have never gossiped about anyone. But it’s not the truth.

I love to talk, and I hate secrets. So sharing “secrets” was always fun for me. I don’t recall ever trying to gossip maliciously, to hurt someone. But I have to admit there were times I gossiped to fit in.

I remember sharing a cabin with several girls at Camp Northland one year. There was this one girl, Sherrie, who had frizzy hair and weighed even more than I did (highly unusual). She had only brought two outfits to camp and hadn’t really started caring about hygiene or taking daily showers like the rest of us.

In spite of all the Christian messages during chapel, we made fun of Sherrie behind her back. We mocked her hair by making air spirals and holding our noses when we *thought* she wasn’t looking. We didn’t make fun of her weight, I’m guessing, since the other girls thought I might be offended.

Sherrie was no dummy. She picked up on her status as a pariah pretty quickly. She tried to fit in, but since mocking her was the only thing the rest of us had in common, it didn’t work so well.

We thought we had been discreet until the morning Sherrie came running out of our counselor’s room with tears streaking down her face. She raced toward the door and went down the hill to the lake.

The counselor came out and sat us all down. It turned out she had been more than aware of our unkindness. She had been praying and hoping God would change our hearts, but Sherrie had come to her demanding to go home. We got a stern lecture and grounded to our cabin for the rest of the day.

I was embarrassed at having been caught and more than a little ashamed of myself. When Sherrie came back to the cabin, we all apologized to her. I doubt she thought we were sincere.

I learned a big lesson that summer. It could have easily been me who was labeled as the outcast. There were only a few strands of frizzy hair and a couple months of maturity separating Sherrie and I.

Since the “Sherrie Incident,” I tried to be more conscious of gossip. Or, should I say, my tendency to enjoy - to indulge in - gossip.

To me, gossip was (is) like a rich, chocolaty dessert. Plus, it helped me to connect to people (as a gossip, I know, but semantics, semantics).

As a writer, I soak up stories like a sponge and spin off my own web of words. Sometimes what I write teeters perilously close to gossip. I depend on my honest friends to call me if it ever dips into that pot.

And they do. Sometimes. And I get defensive. As one does.

I say all this to congratulate myself on what I haven’t yet said.

I love to write, and I especially love this blog. I pound on this keyboard, pouring my heart and soul into writing about my life. I’ve blogged about many topics, and I’m sure there are many more to explore.

There aren’t many topics off limits in my blog. Politics. Sports. Flip-flops. You know, the basics.

I had gotten so used to being able to blog about anything that when something came up, I automatically started a blog post in my head.

So, you can imagine how hard – very, very, very hard – it was when things came up that I couldn’t, in good conscience, blog in depth about. I tried to use only the most generic terms about the bankruptcy, losing the house, losing our car, having to move the same month I had the baby, etc. I tried to use gentle terms in talking about my husband, who is as human as the next person.

I hated having to couch everything in politeness. I wanted to be real. Not necessarily nice.

The day we moved was one of the worst days of my life. The whole week was terrible. I was exhausted, and we didn’t have nearly enough help. Due to a miscommunication, it was a small crew (who are extremely grateful to) who helped us move, and most everyone had to leave early. Essentially, without Mom and Gary, we would still not be moved in.

My husband spiraled into a deep depression (he would tell you this himself). It was horrendous.

I have been praying for God to change my husband’s heart since the great Marriage Trial of ’06. I knew my marriage would most likely be a lifelong trial. I had been honest with my pastor in saying I didn’t know if I could stay married to Brett. I felt like I was wasting my life with someone who chose to live in a dark hole of negativity and ungratefulness.

I knew leaving was the easy way out. Staying was the hardest choice I’ve ever had to make. Every fiber of my being was trying to convince me to leave. To just take Sam and leave. Start over. Start fresh. Walk away.


Except the Bible is pretty clear about it.

Frankly, at that point I didn’t care so much about the Bible. The Bible didn’t have to live with my husband.

Pastor did some pretty frantic counseling with me over the phone as I sat at my mother’s dining room table, sobbing like a child. I could tell Mom’s heart was breaking, too. She didn’t know what to do either.

After praying with Pastor and listening to his advice, I decided to take Sam and go home.

Brett had been awaiting my decision and met me at the door. He wrapped me in his arms and thanked me for coming home. I was skeptical of his promises to change. Although, he’d never tried before, so what did I know?

(I should stop at this point and say that Brett has never, ever been physically or verbally abusive. He has never been intentionally hurtful to me. He is a faithful husband who loves me. Our issues resolved around his spiritual condition, constant depression, and choice to live pessimistically. )

The moment I came home, I sensed something had happened, but I didn’t know exactly what.

Over the next few weeks, it became obvious God was working in Brett’s heart. His attitude began to change.

He started talking to me about joyful things. He wanted to spend time reading the Bible and praying. He wanted to go to church and fellowship with friends.

At first, I thought maybe it was an act. Just something to convince me to stay.

But Brett is a horrible faker. So, now, after two months, I have something to say –

The man I married is back! How I had missed him!

We were talking about it the other night, and he said how God had to take away all of his “things” in order to get his attention. He lost his house, his car, his hobby, and his employment. Finally, he realized God was making a point.

It is strange to suddenly be back with the man who was my best friend in college. To be able to joke and talk and work together happily without that ever-present string of tension that had been tightly wound around our hearts.

We bond over taking care of Sam. We sit on the bed and marvel at his ten tiny toes and slightly upturned nose that represent God’s blessing in a time of great trial. We realize how we have been given a second chance.

A chance to be in love again. A chance to be redeemed again.

I was a basket case the first month after Sam was born. No one told me how incredibly hard it was going to be.

My friend Alice confided to me that it is the unspoken code to withhold the knowledge of that first horrible month from prospective parents. “It’s just not nice,” she explained.

As I sat on my bed crying, holding a screaming baby, my husband sat down next to me on the bed. I stared at him blankly. Brett is not a talker, so it surprised me when he said, “You know, you’re not alone in this. We’re a team.”

Sure, it sounds generic now, but man, was it what I needed to hear. I latched onto it like a mantra and hung tightly to it. The “team” concept helped me feel not so alone and got me through the rest of that despicable month.

It was hard not to share these trials when I was going through them. I wanted so much to empty my heart onto these pages! But I knew I would be violating the marriage code in a big way.

So now, instead of gossip, I can share this in gratefulness.

I know there will still be trying times. People don’t change overnight. We all backslide at some point. But God can and does bring us back up to where we’re supposed to be.

The way I grew up, people don’t talk about their marriage issues. I think this hinders us so very much. It was the women who came alongside me and shared their marriage trials who helped me get through this.

And of course, God who graciously answered my prayer and changed my husband’s heart.

If there’s such a thing as good gossip, I’m passing this on!