Dorothy, you are wrong. I have more than one home.

About 5 steps.

Three sips of my coffee.

One look at my phone.

It is about as much as it takes to get my mind to wander back towards home, the place where I am not right now. I used to think home was this house, with these childhood friends, driving around a familiar town and passing six people I know in one hour or having parties in friends’ basements and backyards. In little ways it still is home to me.

But my real home, in this present moment,  is a place that I have come to love over four years. A place where my best friends are waiting for me, ready to scoot into the car to grab a cup of coffee or anxious to meet me in Chuck’s for lunch.

Does home change one day? Do we look around and see that we have moved on? Or does our heart just shift? Do we begin to love another place with another group of people more?

I am pondering these questions because a friend of mine, whom it takes about 2 seconds on her Blackberry or one sip of a Red Bull for her mind to wander back to home, asked me something last night: “Do you ever feel guilty when you are home? Because you love your friends and they are great people but you miss school so much.”

She struggles with this a lot.

I thought about for most of my night, about how much I love college compared to some of my friends who just see it as place to get a diploma. To me, my college is so much more, the people and place are my everything. But I don’t feel guilty about this and I told her so.

What would life be if we stayed in one place. What would it amount to if I decided to stay in this spot forever and just let that be enough because it has made me happy for so long. Life would be static. We would never grow. We would never learn to be individuals.

I think about the ways in which I once believed I would never want to move forward. I wanted to stay in the second grade forever. I wanted my senior year of high school to last for an eternity. I never wanted to leave my hometown.

There have been times in all of our lives that we have wanted to be shoved in a snow globe with a particular moment in time so we would never have to let it go.

But we eventually move forward, sometimes willingly and other times begrudgingly. We find new places to fall in love with, new faces to fall in love with, new versions of our selves to fall in love with. We fall in love over and over again. All Over The Place.

But this is good. This is the way I see it: We start to love places in childhood, which propel us to love other places even more as we grow older. We reach adulthood and we are really starting to truly love passionately and willingly. We find big loves. But we must thank the little loves that we had as children, the places we were for a while like our hometown or our college, for they are the ones that have inevitably taught us to love our place in the world.

Should we feel guilty when our mind wanders and our heart runs away from the present moment towards a home that “we love more.” No, no. Not necessary. We should just be thankful for all places. All these homes. Be thankful that they have served their purpose. Be thankful that these places gave us their time.

This is your Christmas

Whether you are five years old or have five grand children, either way, this is your Christmas.

Whether you are surrounded by the ones you love on this day or you have hollowed a hole in your heart for someone this is missing, either way, this is your Christmas.

Whether you have just tied the knot or you are slowly untying what seems like a lifetime’s worth of knots, either way, this is your Christmas.

Whether you have a healthy bank account or you are fighting to make ends meet, either way, this is your Christmas.

Whether you are filled to the brim with happiness and elation as you awaken each day or you are softly crying yourself to sleep each night, wondering how to put yourself back together again, either way, this is your Christmas.

Whether you are finding yourself smiling over someone unexpected this December or you are learning to let go of someone who once defined your grins, either way, this is your Christmas.

Whether you are filling the tree and stockings with dozens of gifts or you are giving the gifts that only a tight budget can buy this year, either way, this is your Christmas.

Whether you are settled by the fire, enjoying the sights and sounds of a place called “home,” or you are away from your loved ones and missing familiarity this season, either way, this is your Christmas.

Whether a jolly big man in a bright red suit left you treasures to wake up to or a little baby in a manger changed your life with his birth, either way, this is your Christmas.

No matter whom we are, where we come from, the amount we can give and receive this season or what we believe in, either way, this is Christmas.

-Hannah Katy

Wishing you all a beautiful and meaningful Christmas Day. Thank you for the constant support, it means more than you could imagine. This morning I will be sitting by the fire, spending time with family and enjoying the simple things in my life– and I wish for you the same. I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers throughout the day. Remember, this is your Christmas. Don’t let it slip away.

Lacing up my sugarplum fairies’ shoes

This time 13 years ago Santa was coming. He was loading up his sleigh and my toys were in his satchel ready to nestle themselves under the Christmas tree. I had set out the cookies for him and a carrot for Vixen (well I did not like Rudolph).

This time 13 years ago I was prancing around my house in a tutu, probably pretending to be Clara from The Nutcracker as I waited for company to show up at the house. I kissed baby Jesus on the forehead as I passed him on our table side nativity.

This time 13 years ago, the magic of Christmas was snug in my heart and no one, absolutely no one, could take away from me the sugarplum fairies that were dancing in my head.

This Christmas season was not all that there for me. Sure, I went through the motions of shopping for everyone on my list, sending out cards, wrapping gifts and baking cupcakes, but the magic that usually accompanies me throughout the 25 days was just not there.

It is not a Scrooge feeling, it is just a different feeling.

As we get older the holidays become more stressful , covered like a sheet of snow by other things that must still take precedence in our lives. The work load. The final tests. The finances. Before we know it, it is gone. In the blink of an eye, the season ends.

24 hours left, a giant Christmas Eve party and a Christmas morning gathering before the season will make its way to the back of the calendar once again.

If you have not already, steal the season back. Don’t rip it from the heart of little Cindy Loo Who like Mr. Grinch but sing your own Who song. Make your own Whoville, someway, somehow.

Let’s acknowledge those who have given us gifts this season. Give gifts to others with every intention of goodness in our hearts. Say Merry Christmas to perfect strangers. Say a prayer for those who may not have as happy of a holiday this season. Light candles. Sing carols. Realize that Christmas is not a noun, it is verb.

Christmas is giving, sharing, loving, spending- not money but time- singing, dancing, recognizing the reason for the season.

Let us refocus for the last 24 hours. Forget the lists that were not quite finished, the gifts we simply could not get our hands on this year, the mounds of calories we are nervous about consuming and just let Christmas take its course. Just let Christmas fill us with wonder and excitement and all the feelings that we once had as little children.

So wait up for Santa. Listen for bells. Go Christmas caroling. Put on your tutu. Fall asleep tonight with visions of sugar plums rocking out in your head.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

The “inbox” is no home for loved ones.

As a little girl, Curly Baby came everywhere with me. Apart from the one time that I threw her out the car window to prove to my mother that she could fly, followed by a panic attack when she surprisingly could not, that Precious Moments doll never left my side. I cuddled her, clothed her, bathed her and would not let anyone else take care of her.

I started thinking today of if I had a companion now that is as constant as Curly Baby; something that I am unable to put down, unable to go anywhere without, something that leaves me full of anxiety when I misplace it. Well now I am not so proud. My cellphone.

This piece of screws and bytes holds my life together. I leave it by my head to fall asleep at night, I check it three or four times in one sitting, I scavenge for it when I hear the text message tone. A lot of us are guilty of this. The rebuttal to the argument that this little gadget owns our lives: it keeps us in touch with the ones we love and the ones that are far away from us.

Call Hallmark because this is about to get touching.

Two summers ago I did some hours at a nursing home where I sat around a table and chatted with the old ladies believing I finally found the place where I fit in. At one point I checked my cell phone and the lady next to me asked what I was doing.

Me: Oh, just checking to see if a friend of mine returned my call.

Lady: I just don’t understand your generation today.

Me: Why? (intrigued per usual)

Lady: When I was a little girl we didn’t have all of these things. My grand children all talk to their “best friends” through a computer screen. That is not a friendship. You need to be able to hug your best friend, kiss your best friend, smell your best friend.

That lady taught me a valuable lesson, that friendship and tight-knit relationships are cultivated through face to face interaction, laughing at one another’s stupid mistakes, being there to actually see those stupid mistakes. We cultivate these lasting relationships through holding hands, seeing the other person cry, hurting their feelings but being able to read from their face that we have hurt them and feeling our stomachs sink.

We don’t get this from a text message. We don’t form lasting connections through an artificial connection. And I realized today that I am tying myself to these artificial connections, binding myself through these 140 character conversations. Taking real and true emotions and forcing them into a small space that travels through hundreds of miles to another person’s screen. And I call this friendship.

Now I am not cursing the cell phone, the Facebook or the email account. These innovations have done wonders for keeping us all in touch with one another and helping us root up buried pasts, but at some point we should draw a line. We should say, “let’s save this conversation for when we talk in person.” Or we should say to someone, “You know, I want to save learning your favorite color or your biggest passions for when I am sitting across from you, where I can see your face light up as you talk about it.” Or “I want to save the I love you’s for when I am lying next to you, feeling your hand slip into mine.”

We should draw these lines and see how much more fruitful life becomes.

And when distance sets us apart and we have to be away from those we love, let’s get a little creative and write a letter. Hand written. About something or about nothing at all. Do me  favor, if I know you, send me your address and I will send you a letter. I want to write you a letter. Heck, even if I don’t know you send me your address and I will write you a letter. But once I write the letter to you, you must pass it on and write a letter to someone else. Deal? But I am serious. Email me your address at hbrencher@live.com, or reply to this post with it.

And if you find the chance, put down the phone and Twitter in the next few days and enjoy those around you, the ones that you are blessed to have. As for me, I will be seeing my best friend tonight for the first time since Thanksgiving and I plan to hug her, and spend real time with her as I sit across from her,  and maybe even smell her.

For-give-ness sake

My father wants gel pens for Christmas. Gel pens. Yes, those things we used to write with in the 6th grade. And we collected them. And nearly had a hernia when they came out with the ones that would show up on black paper. He wants gel pens. Well Lisa Frank, I hope you are not out of business yet because I am coming for you.

This season is about giving but I am starting to believe that I may just gain more this year by giving to myself. I received an email today from an old friend, one in which I have had a falling out with, and it was a moment of peace and clarity. I was not expecting to hear from this person, but this person regarded all that was enclosed in the email as an early Christmas gift to them self, to finally have closure on our crumbled friendship.

Had you asked me yesterday if I thought I needed this, to hear from this person and to really think about everything that had happened to tear us apart into two strangers, I would have not thought twice. I assumed there really was nothing left to say, no more bridge to burn, no wound to care for.

But this person had words for me. Words that I may have been caught off guard to see sitting in my inbox amongst some eChristmas cards and daily fitness tips. These words propelled me to respond and also caused me to think of if there is anyone in my life that I have words for.

We all make room in our minds for the could haves, the should haves, and the would haves. We let them dominate our head, sprawl all over the place and use our brain as a mattress to jump upon. Do your self a favor this Christmas and  kick them out. Is there something you want to say to someone? Did someone hurt you and you feel so inclined to tell them? Did you let someone go that you should not have?

Do you need to forgive yourself?

Take your mind today and treat it like you would a messy desk, clean it up and clear some stuff out. Leave room for the carols, the stories, the ambiance of the holidays. Tidy up your mind and find your peace in the moment at hand.

This person may or may not know it, but they gave me the greatest gift of all this Christmas; a precious chance to salvage a friendship and ask for forgiveness. Forgiveness, to me, is more beautiful than the star on top of the Christmas tree. Forgiveness, right now, is filling my cheeks with happiness and elation, warming my heart with so much heat that it has the potential to melt the snow outside.

Forgive someone else. Forgive yourself. Say what you need to say, or listen to someone else. After all, this is the season for giving.

Welcome Christmas season, won’t you please stay with me for the next few days?

Just close your eyes. Maybe the world’s hurt will go away.

So I never expected to be nearly harassed by a belligerent man in Starbucks (of all places), nor did I expect to be saved by two complete strangers who pretended to know me and had me come sit with them so that he would leave me alone.

A nice pair of people. A man and a woman. Stirring up a nice bout of conversation. They begin to speak about Haiti. The woman is from Haiti, born native, and the man is asking if she will return soon.

I am sitting stunned and paralyzed, I have stumbled into a conversation about a country that I am applying to go to in the next several months.  I tell the woman this and she doubles me over with a look.

“You, oh no, not you,” she said. “You are a pretty, bright-eyed white girl, you will never be seen again.”

Of course the further into this conversation I get, the more afraid I become. Naturally. This woman is telling me all the awful things that would happen to me straight off the plane. I am listening but I am softly crying in my head. I have labored over this application, mulled over this decision, and now I am basically dead before getting off the plane.

“You want to help people? Skip on down to a hospital down the street, I am sure they need your help.”

I know it is a sad and scary world. I know this is not a vacation spot. I hear it on a daily basis, why do you want to go there? Of all places.

My replies: Life is not meant to be easy. I was not made to be stuffed into a tiny little box with a tiny little world view. I want to see how 75% of the world’s population lives, because it is certainly not in the manner that we do.

But how do we change the world when everyone is barking at us that it cannot be done?

For one, we stop believing people right then and there. The world is big and large and every other adjective that could boost up the size of this planet. Other places,  other developing worlds, are exposed to danger and violence and war on a daily basis. We sit comfortably saying, don’t go over there, help in your own country. I say, well they cannot come over here, we never gave them that option. So. Watch. Me. Go. To. Them.

The most irritating, skin-scratching thing for me (besides hiccups, which I absolutely hate) is when people try to say that one cannot make a difference. If one cannot make a difference then why are we even here? Were we meant to come into this world thinking, ho hum I will never do anything in my life except “be.”

No, I think we were meant to fill our lives with verbs– helping, sharing, loving, finding, searching, understanding. And we cannot do it in a 1X1 space.

So although it hurt me to hear these things and to think for a second that I should not be doing all that I am doing, to think that it really might not make a difference, I am proving myself wrong. Maybe my service next year will still be Haiti, perhaps South Africa, or maybe domestic. But there will be serving.

What I do with my life will be a difference to someone else. I will make sure of this. So they say I cannot change the world. But I can change worlds. I can step into the lives of others and I can change them. And as each person shifts, the world will shift as well. Yes, yes, I believe I have found  a starting point.

And as promised by a few of you, and I will shortly make a page to accomodate this, I am leaving you with a book from my winter reading list. Largely inspiring my post today, Little Bee has opened my eyes to a lot of things: humanity, globalization, the mere fact that we are really not all that different. A story of two worlds merged into one, two women fumbling through a past that is not pleasing to the eye, two worlds becoming one story. Written by Chris Cleave, I recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a change in perspective and that push to make the difference. Let me know what you think.

“You live in a world of machines and you dream of things with beating hearts. We dream of machines, beace we see where beating hearts have left us.”

Little Bee-

Where are you Christmas?

I cannot get into the Christmas season and it frightens me. There are six days left and I am nowhere near the level of cheerfulness and brightness that I normally aspire to. The tree does not seem as decadent this year. Hot chocolate at Starbucks just is not doing it for me anymore.  I am practically hurling myself around the house, looking under cushions and random junk to see if the season is hiding on me.

But regardless of if my heart isn’t feeling its usual holiday self, I am taking a step back to see that it’s ok.

A lot of people are having a heard time this holiday season. The economy is disabling people while breaking hearts and dreams. More people are sick, more accidents are happening, more people are passing away. I think it is even more difficult to lose someone during the holiday season because their absence becomes so present.

They are not at the front of the table where they used to sit. They are not laughing wildly at the grown up table or leading the game of football with the family.

Losing someone, during this season that is so invested with friends and family, is by far the hardest thing.

A great friend of mine interrupted a rant session a few of us were having right before finals began to tell us that a man that she knew from home was dying. He probably would not live until Christmas. He would leave behind four little boys and a wife that loved him very much. I sat there with a rock in the pit of my stomach as she told me this. I imagined what it would be like to lose someone so close to me during this time of the year, or any time of the year for that matter.

Unfortunately, of all the things they can sell in stores to supposedly make our Christmas season a better one–  the brightest lights for the tree, the hottest toys under the tree, the most delectable desserts for the party– the stores can do nothing to aid the gaping hole of a loved one lost at Christmastime. You won’t find the relief on Ebay, in the Target $1 aisle or at the Christmas tree farm. It is not lurking around anywhere. It is not 50% off.

Perhaps that is why it hurts so bad. Here is the season where we simply find happiness. All the things that money can buy submerge us in the sugar coma state of the most wonderful time of the year. But the market cannot materialize the loss of a loved one.

So we must.

We must make the choice to make those who are missing this Christmas reappear and be more real than ever. We must bring out the memories we have with this person, scatter them on the big dinner table, pick up each one, talk about it, laugh about it and then settle it into our souls for safe keeping.

Keep in mind what they loved the most, carry on those traditions. It is not the same. It never will be.  But it is the way they would have wanted it. Picture them looking down and smiling because they know you are moving forward and trying your hardest.

The Christmas after my grandma passed away was definitely the hardest one yet. I cried a few times through the Christmas Eve festivities and I just thought it was not fair. But my tears would not make her anymore real. I had to make her real. So I said a Christmas prayer, I proceeded downstairs to rejoin the chaos and I dared to bring her into every part of that Christmas. We laughed, we reminisced and ultimately, we thanked the heavens that she had once been there to make this season so special to us.

It is never an easy thing. It is always a hard thing. But with the support and love of friends and family who are near and dear to us, we somehow find the way to make it bearable.

So today I will pull out the photo albums and old scrapbooks and attempt to find the Christmas joy. It is not in the stores or under my tree. It is in the memories that have already been made with the ones, past and present, that have made me who I am.

“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” –Kahlil Gibran