Shine a light

"You were so good at making pies!" my mother said to her childhood friend who was visiting our family. "I can't make pies."

"Oh, pies are easy," the other woman answered and her face lit up as she explained the secrets to a flaky crust.

Both women were in their mid-70s, and as they shared stories around our family dinner table, it became apparent that Mom had an easier childhood than her friend. Both were raised on family farms in eastern Iowa, but this other woman had some tough early years and, even as a girl, had been aware of the differences between her home and Mom's.

But at that table, when it came to pies, she basked in the glow of Mom's compliment. It was a marvelous thing to see. Mom wasn't lying. She did her share of baking, but never pies. And, from her friend's reaction, there was no doubt that our visitor had skills.

That little incident, from decades ago, has been on my mind as Christmas gets closer. I see now that, like the star hanging over Bethlehem, Mom shined a light and the rest of us looked to where it led us, to whom it led us. We saw this friend in a new light, more as Mom saw her, more as God saw her.

This Advent and Christmas season, I've begun thinking about whom I can shine a light on. Sometimes doing that in front of others, sometimes doing it privately, one on one.

What a gift that would be for a person to hear: "I really admire the way you do (insert compliment)." Or, "You do such a good job at (insert compliment)."

And what if I got into the habit of looking at others that way, of more freely making those positive and encouraging comments? To my family members? Friends, neighbors, fellow parishioners, co-workers, store clerks and others?

What if I became a year-round Christmas "star"? Not like a movie star, but like the Bethlehem star: Look at her, look at him. Or if I helped a person better see himself or herself in a new light, a truer light?

What a difference that little bit of recognition or appreciation can make in someone's day, in someone's life. When we shine that light on someone, we shine it on Christ, on someone who "hungers" or "thirsts" for a kind word.

What's in all this for me? First, there's the joy of doing something for someone else. (Something, by the way, that takes little effort, costs me nothing and has no calories.)

Second, just as I witnessed what Mom did and want to do likewise, my children and grandchildren will learn from me. They pay less attention to what I say and more to what I do.

And, third, I can begin to better see others as God sees them, as our heavenly Father sees each and every one of his unique, and beloved, sons or daughters.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015