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I shouldn’t be surprised by how God works, but I am constantly in awe when he does. Sometimes I feel like a little child on Christmas morning, almost overwhelmed with his gifts, his blessings, his “showing up” through others during a time of need. This week has been one of those “Christmas Morning” kind of times: a special heaven-sent gift following the recognition of great need.
Two things happened on the same day. After a healing service at Christ of the Desert, I spoke with one of the women who had recently talked with Amy, who works closely with the families of Mecca and who is instrumental in identifying families with infants who have the greatest need. She said that we could never know how needed those blankets were (and continue to be) for the infants. Many of these families can’t afford clothing for their newborns, and the blankets are all they have. My heart nearly broke when I heard this. I had no idea that the level of poverty was this great among these families. The image of Christ’s birth came to me as I drove home, and I rejoiced that those of you who sent your beautiful handmade blankets had been so generous. I thought about how we wrapped these babies, just as Mary wrapped Jesus, in “swaddling” clothes of love. In Matthew Jesus tells us
“Come, you blessed of the Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty, and you gave me drink; I was naked and you clothed me . . . Assuredly, I say unto you, inasmuch as you did it to the least of these, you did it to Me.”
That afternoon when I got home, I received an email from a woman in North Carolina who asked how she might start a chapter of Angels Undercover. With tears in my eyes I wrote back to tell her that this was the first time the question had come up, but that I would be delighted to get more detailed information to her and work with her as she starts our very first East Coast chapter of Angels Undercover.
If any of you would like to start a chapter in your area, let me know. We’re in the earliest planning stages, so all ideas are welcome. If you have friends who like to crochet, knit, or quilt, perhaps you could get together once a month for a potluck luncheon or tea and work together, sharing patterns (and recipes?), and chatting. This year, I would like to go beyond making blankets for our little angels and also invite you to make baby clothes, especially booties, caps, sweaters for newborns — anything appropriate for infants in cold weather.
Please contact me personally if you have additional ideas for our Angels Undercover project as we look forward to helping our little baby angels in Christmas 2009.
Thank you again, dear Angels, for all you’ve done for our Mecca babies. Even now, on these wintry mornings and chilly nights, they are wrapped in your blankets of love.
I want to shout out a big THANK YOU to everyone who participated in the Angels Undercover baby blanket project. I was absolutely thrilled with each of the blankets you crocheted, knitted, and quilted. What special gifts of love ! The gifts were presented to the families on December 19th, just before a record breaking cold snap. I’m certain these blankets were appreciated more than we can ever know. Many of you made more than one blanket, and your accompanying notes to the babies and their families brought tears to my eyes. What precious words and thoughts! Some of you even included Spanish translations! For more detail about how the blankets were distributed, please stop by www.angelsundercoverproject.org.
Because of the huge success of our 2008 project, I’m extending the project for another year. So get out those knitting needles, crochet hooks, and sewing machines and breathe a prayer for the baby who will someday be wrapped in the blanket you’re making. Send me an email, if you’d like to be placed on our mailing list for updates.
For everyone who participated this year, I’m just now getting to my handwritten notes and a little thank you gift — so watch your mail boxes during the next couple of weeks. December was an especially busy month, which set me back a bit. I had surgery early in the month, and then worked on a book deadline through the holidays. My book, another mystery for Guideposts book division, was due January 5! (What was I thinking?! ) I missed my deadline by only one day — ta-DA! — and now I’m playing catchup. I’ve promised myself, and my family, that I’ll think very carefully about ever signing another contract with a manuscript due date around the holidays.
I look back at the last post and can’t believe over two months have passed. First, I want to tell you how excited I am at the response to my last blog about making baby blankets for the infants and toddlers of families who live near me, who have so little. Some of you left comments here, and others emailed me privately. Thank you, thank you, thank you! And you’ve been very patient while you waited for a response. Finally, we’re getting ready to roll. I’ve named our project “Angels Undercover” — thinking of both the wee angels who will someday be tucked beneath the prayer “blankies” and the grownup angels — you! — who are willing to join me in this project.
Two things came together just in the last few weeks. First was the publication of my last mystery by the same title, ANGELS UNDERCOVER, which at its heart has mysterious goings on (angelic acts of kindness) that play into the larger mystery, one of my favorite stories of all I’ve written. The second thing was my decision to publish a website devoted to my baby blanket project. As I thought about the name, it quickly became obvious that ANGELS UNDERCOVER was perfect. I ran it by my publisher, Guideposts Books, and they loved it.
The preliminary design is done, and though I’m still adding information–such as patterns and a forum where we can share our thoughts and pattern details–you’re welcome to stop by and have a look. The web address is www.angelsundercoverproject.org. Bookmark the page and come back often!
A few days before Christmas my husband and I joined members of a local church to distribute groceries to the families of farmworkers in a rural community near where we live. Though this is a weekly ministry, on this day, they also threw a Christmas party for some 300 people. (Typically, they serve 300-500 people once a week!) Some of the ladies had made over 400 sandwiches and baked just as many little gift cakes. There were teddy bears and candy canes for the children and a Santa to give them them out with hugs. The smiles of gratitude from these beautiful little children — and their parents! –were heartwarming.
Several of the women had been working on crocheted or knitted blankets and throws for months, which they gave out with more smiles and hugs. Again, the gratitude of those who received them touched my heart. Each was a tangible gift of love that said more than words ever could.
As I watched, an idea began nipping at the edges of my heart. I’ve made a number of prayer shawls for friends and family. The idea is that as you crochet or knit, with each stitch you pray for the one you’re making it for. The receiver is blessed beyond all measure (I know this firsthand!) when presented with this gift of love.
By the time I got home that niggling idea had worked its way into the center of my heart. What about prayer blankies for the babies? I checked my shelves of stacked yarns — many left over from other projects. I hadn’t known until that minute how they could be used. Then it came to me: Simple granny squares made from those yarns could be stitched together make up beautiful baby blankets. With each stitch would be a prayer for that baby and his or her family. I would probably never know the child’s name, but God knows. He knows that little one just as intimately as he knows me. “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139:13)
I began work immediately on the first prayer blankie, and I’m nearly finished (photo coming soon) and will soon begin another. Would you like to join me? If you are a quilter, knitter, or crochet-er and would like to make a prayer blankie for a baby or toddler, I would love to hear from you. Just post a comment on this page, or send me an email for further instructions. I will also be posting easy patterns and ideas for designs on my website. What a blessing it would be to gather as many prayer blankies as possible for these precious little children.
There are many prayers I whisper as I stitch together this baby blanket — that this child will be cared for physically and emotionally now and in the years to come; that this little one will someday, somehow, understand he is loved by Someone who loves him as if he is the only one in the world to love; and that especially, the child might come to know the One who says, “I have loved you with an everylasting love, therefore in lovingkindness I have drawn you. . .”
A week before Christmas, and all around us are the trappings of the season: twinkling lights on rooftops and Santas on lawns, irritated drivers and frantic shoppers, ubiquitous Christmas music seeping out of speakers everywhere from coffeeshops to mall parking lots. Just call me stubborn, but it always takes me some time to get into the spirit of Christmas. It doesn’t help that the season is thrust on us well before Halloween.
This year I avoided Christmas as long as I could. I have boxes of ornaments and decorations stacked in the garage from years past, but I decided to do something different. I put up a tabletop Christmas tree with clear lights, filled its branches with white doves, and set a silver star at the top. I call it my peace tree, and every morning when I rise — usually while it’s still dark, I turn on the lights and I am reminded to pray for peace in our world–in Iraq, in Israel and Palestine, in Darfur . . . oh my, the list goes on. And I pray for families here and around the world who have so little, who live in constant fear of attack because of war or political injustice. I pray for those I know by name in war-torn areas. Such as Fr. Andrew White, an Anglican priest from England, who at great risk to his own life, pastors a church in Baghdad. His shrinking congregation is made up of women and children because most of the men have been killed. He has MS, yet he is giving his life to those he shepherds. And I pray for those people in our country, in my community, who live in poverty. Many live on the streets, unsafe and cold, not knowing where their next meal is coming from. Some are mentally ill. Some are children.
I can’t pray beside my little peace tree without think about the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi: Lord, make me an instrument of your peace . . .
I can’t pray beside my little peace tree without considering how I can be that instrument. What can I do to make a difference, when the need is so great?
I can’t pray beside my little peace tree without thinking about the over-the-top consumerism in our culture: false values that fly at us like reindeer on speed, without thinking about how I get caught up in the “wants” versus “needs,” and too often coming down on the side of “wants.” It’s too easy. Yet when I think about the heartbreaking conditions of the poor around the world, I want to weep because of my own insensitivity.
A few days ago I put out my creche, which besides my peace tree, is the only other Christmas “decoration” in our home. My mother handpainted the nativity figures when I was a child, and it’s been a special treasure through the years. I hid a tiny cross in the manger, a tradition begun by St. Fransis of Assisi. Such a simple tradition, yet to me this year, it’s one of the most precious reminders of why this Child came into this war torn, troubled world: not as a King, but as a Savior.
Sacrifice. Not a word we associate with Christmas in this season of giving and receiving. Yet, when I think about it, isn’t that what the heart of Christ’s message was all about? I have to ask myself what will I sacrifice this year, this week before Christmas, this day, that will bring peace to one child or one family. Mother Teresa was once asked how she could go on with her work when the need was so great. “One child at a time,” she replied.
Peace comes with a price. What will I give of myself that just might make a difference in one life this week, in one life this new year?