Posts Tagged ‘atonement’

the gifts you don’t keep

December 8th, 2017    -    9 Comments

Growing up, finances in our family were tight, so there were limits on Christmas. But one year we woke to a stack of gift boxes that seemed to appear from nowhere.

My father had been given a surprise Christmas bonus and spent it on presents for everyone. He was especially generous to my mother, who had always made do with less. The whole thing was like magic.

The next day my dad drove south for a job that would have him on the road for two weeks. The day after that there was a knock at the door and several members of our church came in to talk quietly with mom. After they left, she asked my sister and me to go for a drive with her. We ended up in the parking lot at Dairy Queen.

There she told us the truth about the bonus that wasn’t really a bonus. About the road trip that wasn’t really a road trip. About the money that had gone missing while my dad had been church treasurer. And that he was missing now. She told us this because she’d been given a chance to repay the theft and save us from further trouble. That meant that our Christmas gifts weren’t really gifts because we’d have to take them back.

I was 16. I got a part-time job and started saving money. At home, I mowed the grass and washed the car. From then on, I knew I couldn’t ask mom for anything because she didn’t have anything. But I always got by with what I had. Those are useful lessons to take into your life.

One day my father came back. When I was older, I forgave him, because forgiveness frees you from the past and its shadows. Neither he nor my mom ever talked about those events again. I rarely remember them myself. Still, I wonder what good he thought could come from such a false display. Whatever he got from us that morning—redemption, gratitude, or what he thought was love, it cost us in shame.

When this time of year comes around, I feel unprepared. I don’t like thinking about the holidays before, and I don’t like thinking about what happens after. But that’s my problem to let go of.

Sometimes people give you a gift that isn’t a gift at all, but a debt—a box of bottomless want, tied in a ribbon of pain. Those are the gifts you don’t keep.


June 26th, 2013    -    11 Comments


How can we live fearlessly?

With more freedom, kindness, joy and compassion?

By living differently.

1. Blame no one.
2. Take no offense.
3. Forgive.
4. Do not compare.
5. Wash your face and leave it bare.
6. Forget about your hair.
7. Grow old.
8. Have no answers.
9. Seek nothing.
10. Go back to 1.

fresh picked

June 14th, 2013    -    6 Comments



I forgot the way I had come. —Kanzan

The buds appear in early winter and bloom through early spring. Theirs is the perfume of youth, the scent of morning. They number in the thousands, perfect star-shaped flowers caressed by eager breezes until nearly all of them loosen and fall. Those left behind—about one in a hundred—have been spared by the iffy wind and weather. They stay on the branch until they form a tiny fruit, hard and green, hidden among the dark leaves. Plumped on full sun and fed by deep water, they grow round and soft. Their skin becomes thin; their color turns radiant.

One tree can produce up to three hundred oranges per year. Mature fruit lasts for months on a branch without ruin, long enough for two crops to be stored on the tree at once: the old and the new. Pick an orange from a tree in my front yard and its rind may be dirty or scarred, slightly shriveled, the color uneven, bulbous, shrunken: no two are alike. But under the layers of skin, scars, and dust, there is goodness, you see, pure goodness untempered by time. Once you taste it, you know for sure.

If you were offered a glass filled with life at its undiluted prime, would you refuse, preferring to gnaw on the bitter rind? That’s what we do when we cannot move past the past: we keep swallowing the sour and never reach the sweet.

Of all the splendors in this patch of paradise, these old trees are most dear to me. They are susceptible to disease, afflicted by parasites and flies, brittle and arthritic. On appearance, they’ve exhausted their stay. But season after season they carry on in continuous production. Their aroma is always fresh; their taste wakes me up. Oranges are in my blood. They are the family business. My grandfather grew oranges and he taught me how to eat them. He was the best grandfather you could ever have. The best ancestors teach you to forget, and when you learn their secrets, they give you the best reason to forgive.

Excerpted from the upcoming book Paradise in Plain Sight ©2014 by Karen Maezen Miller. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA.

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