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The gift of empty boxes

On Christmas Eve, a young father watches his 3-year-old daughter do her best to meticulously wrap a present. And she feels old enough to do so, without any help from a parent. (Remember that phase?)
Choosing a roll of expensive gold-foil wrapping paper, the girl cuts and re-cuts, using up much of the roll. The longer the father stays the more frustrated he becomes, but says nothing, and watches as his daughter proudly puts the present under the tree.
Feeling embarrassed about his irritation, on Christmas morning the father puts on a cheerful face, ready for the gift exchange. His daughter hands him his gift, the very present she worked so hard to cover with the expensive gold foil.
Unwrapping the gift, the father finds an ordinary cardboard box. And the box, is empty. For whatever reason, something inside tips, and he erupts at his daughter, in an angry tone, “Honey, don’t you know how rude this is? When you give someone a present, there is supposed to be something inside. You never give someone an empty box.”
The little girl looks up at her father, with tears on her face, she says, “But Daddy, it wasn’t empty when I wrapped it. I promise. I filled it full of kisses. And they were all for you when you needed them.”
This story stands alone.
Sometimes we preachers and writers need to just, well, keep quiet.
And sit a spell with a good story.
But the more I read it, the more it tugs at me. And it tells me that empty boxes are not always what they seem.  

We see what we want to see. Or more specifically, influenced (and directed) by our disquiet, anxiety and frustration, a cognitive dissonance that determines what and how we see the world. It is no surprise then that we drag with us, a partiality to see empty boxes. Meaning that we see (or focus on) what we think we don’t have. (Living at the mercy of, or defensively.) Instead of sufficiency, our paradigm is scarcity, so “empty” means no possibilities or potential. 

It is so easy to scapegoat the father in this story. We would have never been so shortsighted, we tell ourselves. And yet. Every time I read a book about how to be more attentive or kind or loving or caring or prayerful, I do my best to follow the author’s advice hoping to avoid going through what they went through to learn their lessons. But in the end, I do, in fact, go through what they went through, so, in the end, it’s all about what I take with me on the other side.  

It is the season of Advent. Advent is about waiting (for the arrival of something or someone very important).
But here’s the conundrum: I don’t wait well. It’s not my strong suit. Or, on my list of favorite things to do (it doesn’t make my top 25). (Perhaps you can relate?) And if I have to wait, I have a tendency to create expectations (too often unrealistic) and like the young father in the story—in the end, I see only empty boxes.
Moving doesn’t help this proclivity of mine. I’m like a four-year-old, five minutes out of the driveway on any family trip, “Are we there yet?”
So, here’s how it plays out: I wait and fidget and fret and do my best ADHD imitation. And because I have it (life) all worked out in my head, I foreclose on what is about to happen. Meaning? I’m not really present for the moment when it arrives. And, I miss the kisses.
Like that young father, I lost it a couple times this week. Pointless anger. About things that weren’t all that important, and with people who had nothing to do with the problem. I know that my anger came from a place of impatience. Somehow, I felt “out of control.”
Ah yes… because, sometimes, life doesn’t go the way we plan.
“Expensive paper” is wasted.
We don’t get the present we expect.
And when we unwrap it, we end up with a serious case of heart burn.
Our plans are so well intentioned.
Reminds me of the young couple (a long long time ago) looking for lodging.
Their plans called for an inn, hopefully, a semi-comfortable inn.
What awaited them?
An empty stable.
With not much to offer, but straw and starlight. And if you listen, the songs of angels.
Yes. You never know what the empty box holds.
I can’t tell you what to do with your week, but I invite you to this: If you receive an empty box–
Pause. Be open. Listen. Live into the moment. Receive the gift. 

I am so grateful for the email and well wishes from many about my move. Saying goodbye to Vashon and my garden. Your notes did my heart good. Thank you. And many wondered, “Why the move? Are you okay?” That deserves a response. Like most change, there is a mélange of circumstance. Because of Covid, I had no speaking events for 2020, and likely 2021, so I had to take finances seriously. As it happens, I was hoping to be living in Ireland now (I had been scheduled to lead a tour of sacred sites there in September), but that also was postponed. So. It was all a perfect scenario for downsizing; and getting rid of some stuff (okay, a whole lot of stuff).
The garden, my sanctuary, was not easy to say goodbye to, although, truth be told, I knew it would happen one day. And now I hope it will be that kind of sanctuary space for the new owners.
I now live in Port Ludlow, a small community on the Puget Sound. And here’s the fun part; on a golf course. You know, that thing I’m addicted to.
I will miss the sheep… of that there is no doubt. And I’ll find new ways to get my hands in the dirt.
I love that there are places to walk here, far from any maddening crowd. If you don’t count the Canada geese. You can meander through cedar and fir forests. Occasionally, you pass an old cedar stump, an unexpected antique 10-foot-high wooden urn, sporting a vest of black char, a reminder of a fire from over 100 years ago. Now, some of these stumps, planter containers for new vibrant young trees.
I am out early today. There is silence. I look up, a bald eagle flapping, and flying low to the ground passing directly above me, a welcoming committee of one.
It is serene, calming and reassuring.
Just like those kisses. 

Quote for your week…
Where there is no love, put love and you will find love. St. John of the Cross 

I’m grateful for those who have joined us for the NEW Sabbath Moment Daily Dose. Tuesday through Friday. A quote, a paragraph and a prayer to refuel us. Daily nourishment. This is in addition to Monday’s Sabbath Moment.

My new book is here. Order today. The Gift of Enough–a journal for the present moment (Franciscan Media).

Plus… A new eCourse available at no cost – This Is The Life. 
Other eCourses at no cost.
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Today’s Photo Credit: “This picture was taken at my sacred place on the Oregon coast (Yachats) where I grew up for a short time but has always been home. Spending time there one weekend I saw this heart in the clouds and believed it was God reminding me that I am loved. Your emails are my morning spiritual practice as I prepare for my day as a mental health therapist. It renews my spirit for work that can be exhausting. Thank you”… Amy Reim… Thank you Amy… Keep sending your photos… send to 

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In the mailbag… because your letters affirm us all…
–Dear Terry-Good morning. I am trusting that this transition in your life is for the good of all & that it will be transformative for you. I hope this change doesn’t mean the end of Sabbath Moment which has been life changing for me. It is such a gift to see my favorite poets and theologians in your daily writings-they seem to know what it is I need to hear each day. May you continue to be blessed with God’s love and wisdom. With love, Nancy
–Terry, As I read your Sabbath Moment telling the sheep farewell tears filled my eyes. These many months I have been in the pasture with them waiting for the next conversation. Being in the moment is how I saw the sheep. A breath of fresh air which has been needed this past year. God Bless your move, new journey and the many new sights and stories. Blessed Christmas and New Year. Carolyn

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If we want to be happy at all, I think, we have to acknowledge that the circumstances, which encourage us in our love of this existence, are essential. We are part of what is sacred. That is our main defense against craziness, our solace, the source of our best politics, and our only chance at paradise. William Kittredge

(On a theme by Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
Look how long
the tired world waited,
locked in its lonely cell,
guilty as a prisoner.

As you can imagine,
it sang and whistled in the dark.
It hoped. It paced and puttered about,
tidying its little piles of inconsequence.

It wept from the weight of ennui
draped like shackles on its wrists.
It raged and wailed against the walls
of its own plight.

But there was nothing
the world could do
to find its freedom.
The door was shut tight.

It could only be opened
from the outside.
Who could believe the latch
would be turned by the flower
of a newborn hand?
Pamela Cranston © 2019. 

Light up our lives
Christ, come into our world of darkness
Light up our lives with your coming.
Fulfil all our longings with the joy of your birth
Strengthen our resolve to work for change in our world
And to share the hope of your birth that each Advent brings.
Sr. Bridgetta Rooney

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