Empowering Sacred Spaces

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Empowering Sacred Spaces after Loss and a Free Link to watch Burning Questions, the 56 minute Southeastern Emmy Award winning documentary about my father.

I can even take advantage of trash,” my Great Aunt Stephania, a woman of deep faith, said with a wry smile. It was 1995 and my father and I were in her Warsaw, Poland apartment as she was talking about her Christmas ornaments.

A little backstory…In Polish, the word “aunt” is “ciocia” which is pronounced “chocha.” So, Ciocia Stepha, my father’s aunt, as my father and I both called her, was a Polish Catholic Ravensbrück concentration camp survivor. (We have five Polish Catholic concentration camp survivors in my father’s family that I’ve known or met, two in Poland, Stephania being one, and three in the US: my Polish grandmother, my father’s sister who we called Ciocia Ala, and my father).

I met her for the first time at 27 years of age.

When it came time to put up her Christmas decorations, I was stunned to learn the story of her ornaments. Warsaw was at least eighty five percent destroyed after the war. Many of those who returned inhabited hollowed-out buildings.

Even through Poland was part of the allied forces in WWII, they didn’t get money to rebuild from Churchill or Roosevelt. So the residents of Warsaw volunteered for fifteen years to clean the bricks of their broken buildings. They took these bricks and rebuild their city exactly as it was before the war from paintings that had been hidden during the Nazi occupation.

When Ciocia Stepha returned to Warsaw, she didn’t have money for ornaments during Christmas time, so she made them from metal toothpaste tubes, chocolate wrappers, and thread. She had made a whole Nativity scene and her tree ornaments represented entire casts from Polish operas. When she told us this story, she said with quiet strength, “I can even take advantage of trash.”

Her little ornaments represent a giant theme in the life of our family: “No matter what happens to you, keep your faith, joy, childhood wonder, playfulness, and love.” This timeless fruit comes by determination and the Spirit of God.

Ciocia Stepha gifted me with some of her ornaments before I returned to the US.

Telling the stories of the ornaments is a fun and sacred space in my family. Each ornament represents an adventure or significant moment that reinforces our family narrative. It’s a private time when my father and I shared stories with my girls as we filled the Christmas tree.

Ciocia Stepha’s toothpaste tube and chocolate wrapper ornaments are the crowning story of choosing hope and triumph by faith.

So after my father’s passing four days earlier, I prayed, “Lord, I need help. I want to share the ornament tradition but it will be so much harder doing it without my father here. I don’t feel like it. Will You help me?”

I was afraid to open up our sacred space. What if other people just wondered what the fuss was all about?

I didn’t call anyone, it just unfolded. My Mom-in-Love, Sylvia Starbuckwas already at my house. Natalie Simmons, one of the original widows on my team informed me she was coming over, and Gina Palermo MacFarland, another dear friend, was in town and asked if she could come by. I said YES!

I tested the ground with garland. They could help with the garland and if the vibe wasn’t right, I could politely bow out and do the ornaments by myself with the daughters.

My girls put on Christmas music. The room slowly filled with laughter and stories. Then Sophia said, “Mom, can we start with the ornaments?”

So I started with something easy, like the red balls. I shared how I got these ornaments with Jason years ago, and asked his mom Sylvia if she would like to put up the first one. She smiled as she did.

What’s this ornament about, Mom?” Sophia asked while holding up a little metal dove. My daughters and friends listened while I stared to tell the stories.

This on is my FAVORITE!, Please tell it, Mama,” Sophia looked up at me with a smile. It was Ciocia Stepha’s ornaments.

Carefully I opened the old jar and held a little ornament in the palm of my hand. These women saw what we saw, the glorious determination of choosing child-like wonder and creativity even in the face of unspeakable pain.

And I said what I say every year, “This is our family, Girls. This is who we are. With the Lord, always keep your childhood wonder, no matter what happens.”

And just like that, our sacred space grew.

Being open to letting others into your sacred space is scary, and trusting someone step-by-step is wise. Choosing the timing and people is important, but so is being open letting life flow.

Your sacred space may not look like it did before, but the new sound of laughter and the deepening of love is worth the risk.

If you’d like to watch Burning Questions, our Southeastern Emmy Award Winning documentary, which features my father, Great Aunt Stephania and a segment on her ornaments, click on this link:vimeo.com/211486914. For a brief time, we are sharing the video for free in honor of my father.

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