Wednesday, December 30, 2009

'Ring Out, Wild Bells'

By Alfred Tennyson - circa 1850

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

One Solitary Life

When I was a boy, my parents had a record album of a Christmas concert / dinner party that they played every year. The original event was some sort of Christmas charity event in Beverly Hills, recorded during the late 1940s or 1950s. There was some sort of relationship with this event to my extended family, as my Aunt was one of the party organizers. Beyond this, I can't tell you anything about that record.

I was short sighted enough to let it go as part of the estate sale of my parents home, several years ago. Alas, I wish I had that record back now.....

Along with the requisite Christmas Carols and songs, there was a short speech entitled "One Solitary Life", that I used to enjoy listening to. As I sat on the living room couch, 40-plus years ago, I think God used that little piece to begin a conversation with me about who He really was.

To this day, I find this one of the most convincing apologetic pieces I have ever run across. I found a great version of this on YouTube, recited by Bing Crosby. Sorry for the odd roller coaster burst at the beginning of this.....

Happy Boxing Day!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

All is Well

Christmas is in just four short days. What happened to the time?!

Today, for the first time, I heard this Christmas Carol. Its perfect for the need in our troubled world.

All is well all is well
Angels and men rejoice

For tonight darkness fell

Into the dawn of love's light

Sing A-le

Sing Alleluia

All is well all is well

Let there be peace on earth

Christ is come go and tell

That He is in the manger

Sing A-le

Sing Alleluia

All is well all is well

Lift up your voices and sing

Born is now Emmanuel

Born is our Lord and Savior

Sing Alleluia

Sing Alleluia

All is well

But, as I listened, I wondered to myself - in the midst of a world brimming with hunger and suffering, war and loneliness, pain and suffering - does it really feel like "All is Well"?

Does it, now really?

And yet, more than 2000 years ago, into a similarly troubled world, a tiny defenseless little baby came. He seemed so much like every other baby. And what about those baffled parent to whom he was born. And those mysterious people who came to visit him soon after his birth.

It's a mystery to me, that birth. And, strangely, it's a mystery to me how, in the midst of all the struggle and pain the world, we might be comforted by the ideas behind this song, and still believe there is hope for our world.

And yet, for countless ages, we have been comforted.

All is Well. Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Goodbye to Cindy

This one will be a bit long, so be patient with me.

The Lag in Writing

I have not been writing here for over a month. I am not
really sure why, but now, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, in the midst of Advent, I have a reason to write, and perhaps the muse to share things here will return. Also, sometimes, its just good to take a break from my relationship with my laptop.

Older Daughter is now home for the Holidays, (this actually started before Thanksgiving) after a quite successful first quarter away at college. She returned Saturday from a road trip to Santa Barbara to pick up high school b
uds from college (in heavy rain), and is home safe. We are thankful for these graces.

Thanksgiving this year at our home was simple and warm, with a crowd of only seven; good friends and family together. Again, thankfulness is offered for these things. Today, Younger Daughter is in the midst of heavy studying; sophomore year first finals are next week.

Goodbye to a Dear Friend
I just lit the fireplace before I sat down to write, and the warmth of the fire is slowly filling the room. But now, something is quite different in our home. For the past 12 years, we have shared our everyday life with a wonderful, mellow, and very loving friend. Someone who never got mad at any of us; a chocolate Labrador, named Cinderella. Cindy for short.

And tonight, its different here. There is no one laying against the couch by my side, in her usual spot. I miss that rhythmic breathing, often snoring, and Cindy's interest in anyone new who came in the room; that tapping of her tail on the floor.......this is hard.

Cindy came to live with us in 1997, when Kelly was 7, and her sister was just 4. She was just weened as a puppy, and a big responsibility for our family. She spent lots of time in a crate on our old back porch, before we remodeled, keeping the washer and dryer company. The rest of her time she spent in our back yard, before we had a pool. She was one rowdy puppy, and had the skill to somehow completely destroy (with her puppy and adolescent dog teeth) a 4' high Bird of Paradise plant, and a 10' high climbing rose.

What I have just learned is that we take the little things in life so for granted. And Cindy, with her constant love and affection, was a gift to us. Each day, a dog who just loved us all, that thought that we did no wrong.

She was the source of much joy and laughter. When the girls were younger, and our back yard was just grass, each summer she would join us in the car, for a 15 minute ride to my parents home, for a long game of Frisbee-catch in their swimming pool. As a Lab, she just loved the water - it really was her second home.
And then, when our pool was finished five years ago, it became her real second home during warmer months.

I recall that very soon after we finished the pool, I noticed that something was acting up with the pool filter - the pressure was way above normal, a sign that the filter was somehow beginning to clog up. I thought we had a defective filter, I mean, the darned thing was brand new! I even called the manufacturer on their 800 number - and asked lots of questions.
Half way through the phone conversation, I thought I should disclose the twice daily swimming habits of our dog. The fellow on the other end of the phone burst out laughing, and said something to the effect of "there's your problem with your pool filter bud - DOG FUR!"

I confess
ed to a good friend the other day that I felt terrible, as I was more saddened by the loss of this dog than I had been by the loss of my parents in the recent past. This good friend, who has known me for 20+ years, surprisingly disagreed (maybe its because he loves dogs), and pointed out that Cindy was such an intimate part of our lives for 12 years. Nancy and I were still in our 30s. I mean, really now, that sweet old dog literally grew up with us. In our home. Every day. She watched us love each other, fight with each other, struggle with life, fight back and let loose with tears, laugh loudly together, and she was such a fixture of each day. She helped us stay ordered, with her twice daily feeding, the walks through the neighborhood. Taking the time to stop and pet her, and tell her what a lovely girl she was.

As the years progressed, the bouncy young dog became quite regal, as she slowed .

And so, last Friday afternoon it was 55 outside and gray and raining, when we said goodbye to our dear brown friend. Appropriate weather. At left is a photo taken moments before Cindy left us....she gave me lots of kisses before she left. What a sweet way to say goodbye. It still feels a little gray in my heart.

Cindy taught us lots of stuff. Live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. Be very sad when everyone excludes you, and makes you sit outside. When loved ones come home, always run to greet them. Never pass up the opportunity, and delight in the simple joy of a walk, or a run. Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy.

Take naps. Play daily. Don't ever take yourself too seriously. Let people touch you. When you're happy, dance around and wag your entire body. Eat with gusto and enthusiasm. Be loyal. Protect your family. Never pretend to be something you're not. When someone is having a bad day, be silent, just sit or lie close by.

But for all the sadness, its worth it; for all the piles of love that sweet dog gave us. Sweet Cindy, you will be dearly missed. There will never be another dog quite like you.

Norris Family Christmas Letter 2009

For more years than I can count, Nancy always asks me to write the family Christmas Letter. And every year comes the same feeling; how can I say it in just a page? Where are just the right words to express the journey of our family over the past year? Perhaps to start with the youngest, and work up from there….

If you can believe it, Heather is now a sophomore at Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy. Recently, as we were going somewhere in the car (tip: best place to connect with teenage daughters) I asked Heather if she had any regrets about her school choice. “Not for a second”, was the answer. We are thankful. Heather just loves life, it’s as simple as that! This year brings new challenges. The Youth and Government program will enable her to travel to Sacramento in February to participate in a mock legislative session. Watch out Arnold! Since August, Heather has had a Learner’s Permit to drive. Watch out other drivers! She is talking about traveling overseas this coming summer for a mission trip with our church. Heather brings great joy to all who know her!

Kelly is home for the Holidays now, after her first quarter at DePaul University in Chicago. It is so good to have her home! When Heather and I visited her for Parents Weekend in October, I asked her to rate her college experience on a scale of 1-10. “Nine!” was the emphatic answer, and we are giving daily thanks for this. DePaul is an amazing place. Kelly has made remarkable new friendships, and already seems more mature and thoughtful. Although we miss her, we highly recommend sending your kids away to college! What a young woman; only 3.6 more years to go!

Nancy continues a life devoted to serving others. She is now into her second year (!) of the search that will hopefully soon bring a new senior pastor for our church. Continue to pray for Nancy and her seven friends on this committee, will you? This past July, Nancy spent a week just loving teenage moms, for Christ, at a Young Lives camp near the Grand Canyon. And earlier this year, Nancy joined the Board of Directors of Club21, a community service organization in Pasadena that works to support families with kids who have Down Syndrome. For these things, I am immensely proud. What a woman! We recently, and thankfully, celebrated 21 years of marriage by toasting one-another and tasting wine, while being amazed at the beauty of the Central California Coast.

This summer, our family traveled to Toronto for two weeks of simple relaxation, where we also ventured north to a cottage on Georgian Bay for time with family. At twilight, the deep blue of day fades to the light orange of evening, time for conversation and laughter with family around the dinner table. But, don’t miss it, outside in the dark, there are stars. Billions. This is a place, away from city lights, where the Milky Way stretches from south to north, spanning the entire sky. The Artist of this night sky filled His brush with stardust paint, wound up, and let loose with a massive and limitless spray of dots across the Heavens. Lying on the dock, looking up, near midnight is a time for silence; the cosmos hang above you like the ceiling of a limitless cathedral.

As for Steve, as I lay on the dock at midnight, I just wonder about all this. What happened? Just yesterday it seems, these girls were little, and hugging my knees. Today, they stand eye to eye, and mock my clothing choices and lack of hair, but tolerate me just the same. One girl off at college, the other one heading that way faster than we want to admit. My sweet wife is just as gorgeous as the day we married, and still is patient with me. Even in a tough economic year, I still have a company and job I love. We are all waist deep in blessing. Daily.

How do you measure a year? How can we tell you how we are all really doing, without sounding pretentious, or self absorbed, or heaven forbid, boring. As I write this, I picture each of you, our many dear friends and family, maybe standing in your kitchen, looking through the mail at the end of the day, and finding this letter. My hope is that you are in good health, and somehow wondering about the same kind of things I do. How did we get here in life, and where are we going? Perhaps God is involved in this all, perhaps it’s His Blessings we reap each day. You, our friends, are our greatest blessings!

And so, to continue a tradition we started last year, we will be giving a gift in your name that might hopefully bless others far away, living in a places much more challenging than we will likely ever know. A real, live, flock of sheep will be given to a community in the third world, so that they might become self sufficient.

Maybe it’s not just coincidence that so long ago, simple sheppards were given Great News that changed the world forever.

Merry Christmas, and Great Peace!

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