Saturday, November 28, 2009

advent devotional

every year, our church publishes an advent devotional, with writings and artwork created by members of our church for each day of advent. my contribution from last year--written long before eliza died, ironically--holds particular significance for me again this year; below is this year's piece. (someone asked me if i made up this story: nope, it's really true. a sweet, sweet memory.)

Santa is the king of Christmas.

Have you been in a store since Halloween? From orange and black, all pumpkiny and harvesty, straight to tinsel and lights and ho-ho-hos. Maybe retailers figure the harvest-themed Halloween stuff covered Thanksgiving, too. Meanwhile, Santa started making his appearance right around November 1. The king of Christmas, indeed.

Growing up, we always went to the family-friendly Mass in the late afternoon on Christmas Eve. It was standard stuff: kids dressed up and reciting the same sweet lines every year, as angels and shepherds (“Glory to God in the highest!”) and innkeepers (“No room, no room! Go away, go away!”) and a donkey (“Clip clop, clip clop”) and some trees even (“Swish, swish“). And faithful Mary and Joseph, too (“My wife, Mary, is having a baby. It is hard for her to travel,” and, “Don’t worry, dear Joseph: God is watching over us”). Years and years after we had graduated from the ranks of the participants, my sister and I loved to go to this Mass and relive our glory days of filling those roles, remembering with too much pride having graduated last of all to the coveted role of narrator.

But the pageantry and cute little angels were never the highlight of the Christmas Eve Mass. I wish I could say the celebration of the Eucharist or the stirring homily was. But no. The highlight came after the children had sung and signed the first verse of “Silent Night,” when the sanctuary was darkened, lit only by candles and the white lights on the wreaths and trees. That’s when we would hear the faint jingle of bells and the door to the church opening. Silently, silently, Santa would enter the sanctuary and walk down the center aisle. He would reach the altar; genuflect and pray silently for a good, long moment; cross himself; and turn to leave. No candy canes, no ho-ho-hos, no reindeer or elves or presents. Just the worldly king of Christmas bowing to the King Himself.

“[A]t the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).

I think some of the older people were bothered that Santa should sully the mass so. I know many of the littlest children took no notice of what exactly Santa was doing, filled as their heads were with visions of sugar plums and flying reindeer and bulging stockings. But this simple moment in the Mass brought tears to many more people’s eyes. For a moment—just a moment—Christmas and all its trappings were put right back in their place: the manger of the Christ child.

King of Christmas or no, this season and this day are about nothing but bowing the knee to the Prince of Peace. No matter how many gifts we get or don’t get, no matter whether they’re the right size or not, there’s only one Perfect Gift that we need: we’ve already got it, and it fits like nothing else could. It’s a little bit of the “already and not yet” so familiar from sermons and Bible studies and Christian books. The King has already come—Praise the Lord!—but we spend this season waiting. He has already been born, has already saved us, has already suffered and died, has already risen and ascended. Yet we wait in this too-busy season intended for silence and anticipate His coming again. In all of our busy-ness of shopping and decorating and baking and giving and receiving and ho-ho-hoing, may we not forget that it all bows the knee at the feet of the coming-and-already-come King.

Friday, November 27, 2009

seven quick bits...& just one more

where i've been, or why i've not been here:

  1. turkey (with gravy, of course)
  2. stuffing (mom's specialty)
  3. mashed potatoes (not a lump in sight)
  4. cranberry sauce (delightfully tart)
  5. asparagus (roasted: uh-huh)
  6. pumpkin tart with walnut streusel (pretty and so good)
  7. french silk mousse pie (oh, yes: with homemade whipped cream)

& just one more: leftovers (the best part).

sound familiar? (i'll be back after the food coma.)

Monday, November 23, 2009

what i know

the following thoughts are tangentially related...i think. though i'm not sure i'll make the connection. you can do that part, i trust.

luke knows nothing of our latest loss. mercifully, we had managed to restrain ourselves from sharing the news of zeph, so we were spared the need to try to explain something to him that he needn't try to understand. we can't even understand it. and for his six short years, he has had far too much to wrestle with already to add this to it.

it has struck me, then, that he has not even commented on the food that keeps arriving at our door, the flowers gracing table after table all over our house, the phone calls and cards. for a moment, anyhow, i wondered how such a perceptive sponge of a child, such an inquisitive little mind-like-a-steel-trap had not asked one question.

but then i thought about his life.

luke was two years old when eliza was born. if you've followed our family's story at all (who am i kidding? if you're reading this, you're likely implicated in it!), you'll know how well cared for we were throughout her life and in her death. in luke's entire memory, then, there has not been a time when folks have not been showing up to share life--and a meal or two...or two thousand--with us. for as long as he can remember, friends have been taking luke into their homes and loving on him when we couldn't, loved ones and strangers and anonymous dear ones have given our family gift upon gift, family and "family" near and far have been feeding and nurturing our bodies and souls with love and prayers and food.

the love and care of community, the body of Christ, is all he knows. what a gift--what a blessing!--that luke's life has been so filled with the love of so many people around him that he wouldn't even question this latest outpouring! it's nothing new to him, and that blows me away. i cannot begin to describe how it fills my heart to know how well he has known the love of the Father and of so many, many, many of His children so tangibly...and hasn't even noticed. he hasn't even noticed. what a gift. it's all he knows.

(no, that doesn't do it. that doesn't even scratch the surface of what this revelation means to me. i'll keep trying.)


we've been listening to billy jonas in the car recently. a lot. (do you have kids? if you haven't yet discovered billy jonas, you really should. i don't really do kid music, but if i have to do it, this stuff is good.) our trip to school this morning ended with his rendition of "lean on me." (okay, yes: of course i'd prefer the original. but still. it's a good song no matter who sings it.) it was another of those moments when i was glad luke sits in the backseat and so couldn't see the tears streaming down my face. i've leaned on a lot of people these past few years.

please swallow your pride if i have things you need to borrow. for no one can fill those of your needs that you won't let show.

i have a few things i need to borrow this week. i need to borrow some peace. and do you have any extra rest? (who am i kidding? forget that one...) assurance, yes; i could use a whole bunch of that. wisdom, if you've got some. endurance, patience, energy. motivation, if you have some to spare.


i am so grateful.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

just a thought

not many people knew i was pregnant. but a few dear friends did, terrible as i am (and sam, too, though he better than i) at keeping good news a secret. today i'm remembering the words of one sweet friend when she found out: "i can't wait to see who it is!"

today i'm remembering--treasuring and weeping over--those words.

Friday, November 20, 2009

a rose by any other name

it's what's in a name.

when i was pregnant with luke, sam and i discovered that we were not very compatible in the name-choosing department. and when i say "not very compatible," i mean we couldn't agree one bit. on any name.

it's a wonder our children ended up with names at all.

around twenty weeks, we found out that luke would be a boy, which was even more troublesome, as figuring out a boy name was proving much more difficult than figuring out a girl name (more on that to come, though). i liked traditional but simple names; my caveat was that i couldn't give a child a name that i had ever known anyone else to have. sam didn't care so much about the association thing, but the names' meanings were of particular importance to him. thus, caleb, which i really liked and which was not associated with anyone at all to me, was out, its meaning being "loyal like a dog." sam couldn't stand the dog part. sam, on the other hand, came up with lots of interesting ideas: jedediah, hezekiah, zerubbabel. interesting, but un-spellable...not to mention, well, atrocious, really. in my opinion. ahem. his favorite was zephaniah, which means "he whom God has hidden." so i agreed: the baby could be called zeph for as long as God kept him hidden; but once he was un-hidden, he needed a different name!

finally we agreed on luke, which comes from latin and means "light." whew. one down.

when i was pregnant with eliza, then, we stalled on the name-list creation until we found out she was a girl. she, too, was zeph in utero. but although we agonized over names for her, it really was a foregone conclusion. back when we were sixteen years old, silly teenagers having silly conversations, we once talked about what we would name our children (not our children together, of course, but each our own), and we both agreed that eliza was a good name for a girl. (perhaps that was the year we were reading pygmalion.) so all those years later, agonize though we did, it really was no contest: our little girl would be eliza, "consecrated to God." once she wasn't zeph anymore, of course.

fast forward a few more years. this week, the real zeph passed away. zeph, he or she whom God had been hiding in me for about eight weeks now, will not have the chance to come into a new name this side of Paradise. i was sweetly reminded today of the wise words of the ever-loving elephant horton, "A person's a person, no matter how small." indeed. zeph, our little person, you were and are loved. and deeply missed.

"The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with his singing" (Zephaniah 3:17).

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

to stand and listen

we're making our way through The Child's Story Bible with luke, reading a little bit each night. what we read tonight (based on the book of 1Kings) may well be one of my favorite stories of all time and is a particularly good word for me tonight:

"Go out and stand upon the mountain before the Lord," came God's command. So Elijah went out upon the mountain. A terrible wind came up. It was so strong that it broke great pieces off the mountain, and cracked great rocks open. But the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind had gone down, there came a dreadful earthquake. The whole mountain shook and trembled. But the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake, there came a fire. But the Lord was not in the fire. Elijah stood there and saw the terrible hurricane shrieking around the mountain, uprooting trees and breaking the great rocks; then the dreadful earthquake, making the solid mountain shake and tremble; and then the furious fire raging among the trees of the mountains. He understood something of the strength and power of God. God was much stronger than wicked Ahab and Jezebel, or all the wicked people of all the world.
After the wind and the earthquake and the fire, Elijah heard a still, small voice. He knew immediately that it was God speaking to him.

"go out and stand upon the mountain before the Lord." that's a terrifying command, backed up by terrifying demonstration after demonstration of power and destruction. but God's words for elijah are in the still, small voice. may i have the courage to hear and obey the command to go out and stand before Him and the tenacity and patience and confidence to listen for the whisper.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

a pisgah view of paradise

(does anyone know what author used that expression? i vaguely remember it from my college long ago).

(we weren't on mt. pisgah, though we were very near it and may well have been looking over the pisgah national forest.)

"Let me, I pray, cross over and see the fair land that is beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon." But the Lord was angry with me on your account, and would not listen to me; and the Lord said to me, "Enough! Speak to me no more of this matter. Go up to the top of Pisgah and lift up your eyes to the west and north and south and east, and see it with your eyes, for you shall not cross over this Jordan. But charge Joshua and encourage him and strengthen him, for he shall go across at the head of this people, and he will give them as an inheritance the land which you will see" (deuteronomy 3:25-28).

Friday, November 6, 2009


i caught a whiff of london yesterday.

i was driving my usual route home from luke's school, the route i drive back and forth and back and forth and back and forth again weekly. i was passing through a nondescript intersection in a nondescript part of town, listening to the banter of six-year-old buddies in my backseat. the windows were open just a crack, as the inside of the car was too warm from having been parked in the sun, but the outdoor air was too November-chilly in a southern sort of chilly way.

and then i smelled it. london. unmistakable.

which is strange, really, because if you had asked me before yesterday what london smelled like, i would have laughed and said i had no idea. though i lived there for six months, i'm not really the type to notice details like smells. i might have thought for a moment about your question and answered "exhaust," which is true, in a way, of any major city. and perhaps that was what was wafting through my cracked windows in that nondescript intersection yesterday. or maybe it was the smell of chilly air mingled with warm; for though london is known for its rainy gray weather, the late winter and spring i spent there comprised more delightfully beautiful days than london-foggy grey. could it have something to do with the building that was being torn down in that nondescript intersection? perhaps it smelled like the old, old, ought-to-be-torn-down building in which i lived during my time away. a particular brand of cigarette being smoked by the driver alongside me at the traffic light, which might remind me of all the pub smoke i came to know as just part of the london air?

i'll never know, as it was just a whiff, and then it was gone.

people, places, times in our lives have odors, for better or worse. there's a particular brand of deodorant, in a particular scent, that i cannot use, as it was eliza's scent and it drives sam crazy. i knew sam had accidentally used my towel this morning as soon as i put it to my face and caught a whiff. luke's lunchbox has a smell, washed out or not, of apples-peanut butter-vanilla pudding-and something else. i know when a borrowed something-or-other piece of clothing has been washed by a friend, because although my laundry detergent smells neutral to me, my friends' laundry detergent has a decidedly them sort of smell. my mom's house smells just so, my grandmother's just another. a school has a scent, doesn't it? of what, i'm not quite sure, but your nose knows when you've walked into one. and doctors' offices and hospitals, too. i know the scent of hospital soap all too well.

i guess i do pay attention to smells, after all.

studies show that scent memory is incredibly powerful. there's a direct link between the part of the brain that processes smells and the part responsible for emotion and memory; and our sense of smell can have a great effect on our mood, even subconsciously.

which gets, i suppose, to why preachers love the verses, "For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life" (2 corinthians 2:15-16). they love to ask us to consider our scent; what do we smell like to those around us? good question. if you know me well enough, perhaps you thought from the get-go that i was headed for these verses.

but i'm not today. for today, i'm just remembering london.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

two sides to the story

in my first semester in college, i took two english courses: an introductory literature survey taught by the professor assigned to be my advisor (and who encouraged me, after that semester, to reconsider my english major for women's studies--if you know me, you'll know that i had a new advisor before long) and a shakespeare course with a professor from whom i not only took several more courses and for whom i was a t.a., but who became my honors thesis advisor several years later. i don't remember much about that course, to tell the truth, but i do remember one exam--the final, i think.

the professor told us in advance that we would be writing an in-class essay. he would give us a quotation from one of the plays we had read (and whether he gave us the context or not, i can't remember, but i don't think he did), and we would need to write an essay "about" that quotation. or something like that. though i can't remember the details, i do well remember the quotation.

if you've ever read any shakespeare, you probably have a few guesses, just as we wet-behind-the-ears freshmen (or should i say "first-years"?) did: "to be or not to be," perhaps, or "wherefore art thou, romeo?" or, "friends, romans, countrymen, lend me your ears." or maybe, if you're a bit more well read, you might come up with, "o, that this too too sullied (solid?) flesh would melt": a good choice, certainly, with the endless possibilities for essay blathering on the word choice question. maybe, "if music be the food of love, play on": countless ideas for thesis statements there.

(but, "'tis better to be brief than tedious," says a murderer in shakespeare's richard iii. i won't keep you in suspense.)

the gasp was audible, as i recall, when we sat down to the exam and read the quotation: "both, both." needless to say, none of us was prepared for that one. none of us even knew whence it came, much less what it meant or what we could write about it.

i have no idea what i wrote. nor do i have any memory of any of the (no doubt excellent) discussions in that class or of the other exams or papers. i vaguely remember the plays we read, mostly the ones that appeared in my honors thesis years later, and those very vaguely at best. the space in my brain once reserved for shakespeare lines was rather quickly refilled with lines from "the very hungry spider" and "where the wild things are" several years ago.

but i remember that exam (and the context of the quotation, too--prospero in the tempest), and this morning, that quotation returned to me in the midst of a completely unrelated discussion.

the context is this: prospero and his daughter, miranda, are discussing their island exile and miranda's few memories and many questions about their life before. prospero's response to her question of the value of that exile, be it curse or blessing, is this: "Both, both, my girl:/ By foul play, as thou say’st, were we heav’d thence;/But blessedly holp hither" (i.2.76-78). he goes on to explain that, though they were banished to the island under the worst of circumstances, their time there has turned out to be a blessing.

it occurred to me this morning that so many things are that way, both curse and blessing: things no smaller than questions of life and death and their merits. both, both. so many questions with two answers that seem incompatible and over which i like to lose sleep: faith vs. works, predestination vs. free will, submission vs. righteous indignation. both, both, we're told.

which just doesn't sit well with me. i'm a black-and-white kind of girl. death is either a blessing or a curse, not both. God either determines long before i'm born what my destiny is, or i determine it myself, not both. because, with my limited capacity to see beyond right now, i can't seem to see both sides.

would that i could, though. would that i could, like prospero, look at the truly wretched circumstances in my life and both despise them and be grateful for them. would that i could see beyond my very present circumstances and the past that got me here into the future--the no-doubt very far future, in some cases--in which they will be resolved.

both, both, indeed.

Monday, November 2, 2009


i was praying today with a friend who asked God to make a swap: Lord, please swap out anxiety for peace. when worry rears its ugly head, let me trade it in for your comfort.


another friend is plagued by a perpetually-breaking-down car. it's an old car, really pretty worthless but as it serves her family. she'll drive it into the ground, as they say, as it's useless as a trade-in: no car dealer wants a vehicle not worth the trouble to repair.


but here's the thing: anxiety is worthless. worry is worthless. yet God wants us--commands us, even--to trade those useless things in for priceless gifts: mercy, peace. it's the ultimate "cash for clunkers" deal: give me your junk; your polluting, unreliable, troublesome jalopies; your useless weight on your shoulders, and I'll give you peace, joy, mercy, rest. "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (matthew 11:30). bring me your heavy burdens, and trade them in for my easy ones. if you're weary, bring your weariness to me, and i'll swap it for rest.

it's what Jesus did on the cross, really. isaiah 53:4-5 says, "Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows [...] he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed." He swapped His salvation and His righteousness for our sins, our decrepitude, and our punishment. He was forsaken by the Father so that we might never be. He took on our worse-than-uselessness to give us what we could never earn or even imagine.

and He promises in the book of revelation that in the end, He'll even swap out our old names for new, special, secretly chosen ones.

I will change your name.
you shall no longer be called
wounded, outcast,
lonely, or afraid.

I will change your name.
your new name shall be
confidence, joyfulness,
overcoming one,
faithfulness, friend of God,
one who seeks my face.