Simple Advent, Part 2: Some Favorite Things

 

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Advent begins tomorrow,  so I wanted to do a post with a few favorite books, etc. I have listed 6 Advent books below, and I actually own 2 or 3 more. It’s a problem, guys.  Anyway, for this Advent I’m going to pick two of them and put the rest away for another year, for the sake of simplicity.

The past few weeks have seen most of the Christmas shopping done, all the little stocking things wrapped for the children (thanks, Mom!), and the house cleaned out of many bagsfull of objects we no longer need. I even hand-washed all our wool sweaters. And made fig jam. Things aren’t perfectly clean or organized (right now as I type the floor is strewn with clutter, there’s a pile of dishes in the sink, and heap of laundry on the bed). But it’s a bit better than it was a month ago.

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This morning we went and chopped down a tree at the sweet farm where we’ve gone the past 6 years now. The farmer gave us a hay ride around his property, to the kids’ great delight, and we got to watch him feeding his horses, so Margaret was in heaven.  We drank cider in the barn. And the tree, a good 6 footer, cost us $20. I’m mortified past belief to admit that we also bought a wreath for the same amount of money. Wreaths seem like a sort of unparalleled extravagance to me, but we just did it anyway.

For Reading, Advent devotions:

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Hallelujah: A Journey Through Advent with Handel’s Messiah, ed. Cindy Rollins. I got a real, printed copy of this from here, though they’re sadly out of stock for the year, and I love it. This slim volume walks you through selections from Handel’s Messiah and has little essays, poems, hymns, reflections, recipes, and family traditions from a number of contributors.

WinterSong. Christmas Readings by Madeline L’Engle and Luci Shaw. Poems and reflections. A dear friend sent this to me unexpectedly a few years ago, and it’s been one of my favorites. It has chapters starting with Early Winter and moving through Advent, Christmas, Epiphany and then readings for the New Year and Late Winter. In case you’re like me and really want Advent to last from early November through the End of January. This book can make it happen.

Watch for the Light. Advent readings selected from the works of the likes of Kathleen Norris, Bernard of Clairvaux, Luter, Henri Nouwen, Brennan Manning, Madeline L’Engle, T. S. Eliot, and Karl Barth. This is a favorite.

Light Upon Light, by Sarah Arthur. “A literary guide for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany.” Written by a lady who went to Duke Divinity at the same time as I did. Poems and selections from novels, etc. George MacDonald, Hopkins, Chesterton, Donne. Just all the wonderful people, plus some newer voices. And scripture readings. I haven’t read this one cover to cover yet, but it looks promising.

God With Us, ed. Pennoyer & Wolfe. Another one I haven’t read, but I’m looking forward to it. It includes some pages of artwork, Giotto’s Nativity fresco, and a few others.

Waiting on the Word, Malcolm Guite. A poem a day (with reflections) for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. So yes. I also haven’t read all of this one (I might have bought 4 different Advent books last year). But I’ve heard it highly recommended!

For reading, other:

This little essay: “Bake them a cake, write them a poem, give them a kiss, tell them a joke” (On buying less junk.)

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For Listening:

Handel’s Messiah

Tsh Oxenreider’s Simple Advent playlist on Spotify. Especially if you’re of the super-Advent-purist camp and don’t listen to any actual Christmas hymns until Christmas Eve (or Christmas Day). I’m not personally of that persuasion, despite the  earnest entreaties and exhortations of our Anglican pastor. I’m too much of a Scottish Presbyterian at heart to hold too tightly to any extra-biblical notions of the liturgical calendar. If it were up to me, we’d sing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “Joy to the World” every week in church.

My acoustic/folksy Christmas playlist on Spotify. (I made this from a compilation of music I like and recommendations from some people in a facebook group, and I haven’t listened all the way through to see if everything is 100% perfect, but so far I really like this list!)

Light of the Stable. Emmylou Harris’s 1979 Christmas album. I do not even know where r how to begin describing how much I love this album. Dolly Parton sings on it. This is the Christmas of my childhood, the music I remember along with the smell of the Murphy Oil Soap my mom scrubbed our floors with and the cinnamon oil she dripped onto little rings around the lightbulbs.

Waiting Songs  An absolutely perfect Advent album put out by Sandra McCracken and co. For children, but it’s one of my favorites to listen to whether the children are around or not. Some tracks are simple piano, some a little more folksy.

Decorating & Other things:

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We don’t have much space for storing seasonal decorations; we have Christmas lights and ornaments, and a good stack of children’s Christmas books, and that’s about it. We just don’t have extra surfaces for decorative objects, and too many things on what little wall space we have make me feel claustrophobic. And this. So we don’t decorate too much. If anything, I’ll put some oranges or nuts or pinecones in a bowl on the table. Cranberries in a bowl are beautiful, too! I’ve also bought some fun Christmas things at thrift stores. A vintage tablecloth, a vintage and very faded Santa hand towel, etc. Will is really into making paper chains to count down for things (we have one to count down until winter (above), and another for Christmas), so we have those. I think Will might be old enough this year to make a popcorn chain that we’ll probably wind around the branches of a tree for some birds.  I want to really resist the idea that buying stuff is going to make a holiday of any kind, let alone this one, better. “Getting and spending we lay waste our powers/Little we see in nature that is ours” etc.).

(Also, please know that of course I intend no judgment at all if lots of Christmas decorations are your thing. I think the more twinkling lights and garlands and mistletoe and whatnot the merrier. These days are dark and I say hooray for any small ways we can bring cheer to our homes and the people who inhabit and visit them.)

My other thing is just one of my life favorites right now: Sniffle Stopper essential oil blend from Plant Therapy. This has been an amazing relief for my allergies, and it also smells like a spruce forest. I have a little candle diffuser like this one, only not as pretty, that I diffuse oils in pretty much all the time.  I also love their version of thieves, Germ Fighter, which has cinnamon and cloves and citrus and rosemary. And just plain grapefruit oil. To me, it smells just like Christmas morning. (And grapefruit essential oil can supposedly help a little with the winter blues.) So we have of those three burning almost at all times. (You can also simmer some orange or grapefruit slices or skins, rosemary, vanilla, cinnamon, etc. on the stove for a cozy dose of holiday spirit. I sometimes save orange peels for that very purpose.)

 

 

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Charity Suffereth Long & Other Unpopular Ideas about Love.

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Valentine’s Day this year found us in right in the middle of what we might not call our finest days. Nothing catastrophic or excessively horrible, and probably most of it is just due to dark, cloudy, slushy, freezing winter weather (much easier to think the weather is at fault, than that I am). But regardless of the cause, these have been days that have called me to deep meditation on what really might be meant by “love is patient, love is kind.” Charity suffereth long, as the King James so beautifully puts it. The word in Greek is makrothymeo, long-suffering, or what we now call patience.

And I am realizing that I grew up thinking of patience as a weak, insipid sort of thing, like a girl dressed in a pink frilly dress wearing white gloves sitting primly waiting silently for…. something.

And now, as real patience is being required of me, I am coming to know patience as she really is, as a fierce kind of virtue (the word virtue itself comes from a Latin root meaning strong.)  A virtue of blood and sweat and tears and rolling up ones sleeves to do very, very hard work.

Patience is actually, I realized, most closely related to the Classical virtue of Courage (or Fortitude, as it is also called). And Courage means: forbearance, strength, endurance. To persist (with dignity and grace) in the most adverse of circumstances. (My first draft of this included a long, long, long digression about the four cardinal virtues, and Plato and Aristotle and Augustine and Jonathan Edwards. I was supposed to be a theologian, and here’s one of the Edwards texts if you’re interested, because it’s lovely, and some day in another life or in twenty years when my babies are grown, I might write a book on the subject.)

At any rate, the Christian word for patience, or long-suffering, as I prefer to call it, comes from a root that means suffering, from a further root, thyo, which means TO KILL OR TO SLAY or TO SACRIFICE. 1 Corinthians 5:7 uses this verb: Christ, the paschal lamb, is thyo for us.

So yes, patience is not a pink frilly thing, or a calm and quiet thing. Patience, at its root, real patience, is (Chesterton was right) a kind of duel to the death. The Christian notion of long-suffering means (from here):

  1. to persevere patiently and bravely in enduring misfortunes and troubles

  2. to be patient in bearing the offenses and injuries of others
  3. to be mild and slow in avenging
  4. to be longsuffering, slow to anger, slow to punish

So. Charity suffereth long. It sounds much better than “love is patient,” which sounds like love is supposed to be daffodils and posies and frolicking through fields on a sunny day.

But also, the kind of long-suffering that charity does is not the kind that is secretly bitter and angry and full of hate. Real long-suffering is also a kind of joy. A hard kind of joy (again, not the frilly lace and rosebuds kind of joy). Charity suffereth long, and is also kind.

And this word for kind (which is related to the word Jesus uses when he says, “My yoke is easy.”) means to act kindly, to be useful, to be mild and gentle. Love suffers long, and acts with kindness.

And I know everyone knows this so I hesitate to repeat it, but all the above means that LOVE IS NOT HAPPY MUSHY FEELINGS TOWARDS SOMEONE. Inherent in the definition of love, according to 1 Corinthians 13, at least (also see 1 John 4:10), is experiencing suffering and pain and still acting with kindness and love towards someone. Real love is behaving in a loving way. When you perhaps might not feel like acting in a loving way because of what the other person has done. That’s why patience is courage. Because acting in kindness, sometimes, feels more like climbing Mount Everest in a blizzard or being on a medieval battlefield being trampled by horses or running a long, long marathon when every bone in your body is weary past belief. Patience is not for the faint of heart.

(VERY IMPORTANT NOTE, WHICH I HOPE IS QUITE OBVIOUS: Long-suffering does not mean staying in an abusive relationship. It ALSO does not mean letting someone do whatever they want with no consequences. It does not mean that ways that you have been hurt do not matter, or have not left very deep and real wounds. If you are in any way wrestling with this, and the related issue of what does forgiveness really mean and look like in cases where you have been hurt, or are being hurt, please, please read Dan Allender’s and Tremper Longman’s excellent book Bold Love. Sometimes real love means packing it up and high-tailing it out until someone gets their act together.

But probably for the majority of cases, our situation is not that requires the fierceness of leaving (as Allender and Tremper explain, out of Love), but the fierceness of staying. And this we can only learn from the truly Patient One. The one who suffered the most out of love, for love. The one who had the most patience with us (because we needed it the most). The one who was kindest. Real patience is learned from him. From the supper he prepared for the ones who would betray him, deny him, fail him, and flee him when he needed it the most. From the dirty feet he washed (with how much tenderness) of those same men. From the quietness and gentleness with which he walked the path to his death amid abandonment, being utterly misunderstood, and being wounded in every imaginable way.

And where is he who more and more distils
Delicious kindness?—He is patient. Patience fills
His crisp combs, and that comes those ways we know.” (see below)

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Further Reading & Listening on Long-Suffering. (If anyone other than my own self is in  a relationship and in need of growing in Patience. Or if anyone is single and also in need of Patience of a somewhat different kind.)

HAS EVERYONE ALREADY HEARD THIS ON BEING EPISODE?!?!?! (Ok, caveat, I have only listened to the first 3 minutes. But I think this man is saying everything I wanted to say, only in a British accent, and much more intelligibly, and with fewer etymological digressions, so he wins.) (Ok, I have listened to half of it AND I WANT TO QUOTE THE ENTIRE THING HERE. But I won’t, so just trust me and listen to it.)

THE BEST POEMS FOR BROKEN HEARTS, FOR LEARNING PATIENCE. True story.

This is what Augustine said about the cardinal virtues: “For these four virtues (would that all felt their influence in their minds as they have their names in their mouths!), I should have no hesitation in defining them: that temperance is love giving itself entirely to that which is loved; fortitude is love readily bearing all things for the sake of the loved object; justice is love serving only the loved object, and therefore ruling rightly; prudence is love distinguishing with sagacity between what hinders it and what helps it.” (De moribus eccl., Chap. xv)

A gloriously beautiful poem on patience, by possibly the second greatest poet in the English language, G. M. Hopkins. Who was a Jesuit.:

“Patience, hard thing! the hard thing but to pray,
But bid for, Patience is! Patience who asks
Wants war, wants wounds; weary his times, his tasks;
To do without, take tosses, and obey.
Rare patience roots in these, and, these away,
Nowhere. Natural heart’s ivy, Patience masks
Our ruins of wrecked past purpose. There she basks
Purple eyes and seas of liquid leaves all day.

We hear our hearts grate on themselves: it kills
To bruise them dearer. Yet the rebellious wills
Of us we do bid God bend to him even so.
And where is he who more and more distils
Delicious kindness?—He is patient. Patience fills
His crisp combs, and that comes those ways we know.”

Happy are those who endure hard things with patience, who are steadfast under trial, for theirs is the crown.

It is not all beauty that is called virtue.

Also by him, Charity and Its Fruits.

A poem: the Country of Marriage. (“the forest is mostly dark, its ways to be made anew day after day, the dark richer than the light, provided we stay brave enough to keep on going in,” italics mine)

A song for the brokenhearted.

Glimmers of Light on Dark Days (Candlemas)

Today is Candlemas. A mass for the blessing of candles. The day we remember the presentation of Jesus in the temple. It is a feast day in the church, a day of white vestments and (if one is fasting) a break from the fast. In France they eat crepes & in Mexico there is a tradition of hot chocolate and tamales. And while most of us are probably not going to bring homemade candles to a priest to be blessed (do they still even do that?) it is a day to remember, I think, that all the ordinary things are blessed. The pillows and brooms and dishes and the toys strewn on the floor. The ordinary parts of our day shine with the glory and beauty that radiates from the countenance of the Lord as he bends towards us. The rest of this post is copied and pasted from what I wrote last year. (I can do that, right?)

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(Last year I wrote this the day after actual Candlemas.)

Yesterday was Candlemas. I wanted to write all about how people used to take their candles to churches to have them blessed for the coming year, wanting the very light in their homes to be flickers of holy church-light. How in France they celebrate with crepes. How it’s the Holy Day that commemorates Jesus being brought to the temple when he was a baby and placed into the waiting arms of old Simeon, and how Anna the ancient widow beheld the face of her Redeemer. How Candlemas is probably rooted in wild pagan festivals to celebrate the ending of winter and the lightening of days, but how maybe we need all the wild festivals we can get our hands on when the world is so dark and so, so cold.

And I wanted to write about how this small, unnoticed holiday is maybe a holiday for the people who are waiting. Huddling under blankets, crying eyes out in the dark or in the car on the way to work. Waiting for things to change, waiting the long days of every month for a baby to get conceived, or for a husband, or to get healed, or for something to make this cold world feel not quite so broken.

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And then by the time I realized I wanted to write all of this, the day was waning and it was warm (40 degrees! In February!) so we all went outside and I played baseball with Will while Margaret sat in her carseat draped with a blanket, and then it was dinner time and the house was a mess and I was trying to cut up cabbage to sauté and dropping most of it on the floor because I was so hungry that my hands were shaking and then all the crying and screaming and bedtime drama, and then after the children were in bed I pretty much huddled under a fleece blanket in a state of shock or something. Drinking tea and reading My Mother’s Sabbath Dayscoughing piteously, like the rose in The Little Prince.

So I didn’t write what I wanted to write, which is this:

That we don’t sing songs about Anna and Simeon in Sunday school. We learn about the ark-builders, the giant-slayers, the ones swallowed by fish or walking through parted seas. We hear about the women who get babies: Hannah, Mary, Elizabeth. And all the miracles and angel choruses, and they are grand and we need every story of the dead being raised and the oil lasting and the bread being multiplied and the angels singing over fields of sheep.

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We don’t sing songs about the quiet old folks who sat in the temple and waited all those long, aching days.  But maybe we should. Maybe we need the unremarkable story of this old priest who served in the temple, doing ordinary things every single day, just “waiting for the consolation of Israel.”

And the old prophetess Anna who was at least 84 years old and had lived most of her years as a widow. She was single. “She did not depart from the temple, worshipping with fasting and prayer night and day.” (Luke 2:37). Her entire life was a prayer. She prayed; that’s who she was.

Anna and Simeon, they lived quiet days. Days of longing and ache and somehow of trusting and worshipping God in the midst of the longing and ache.

And then Mary and Joseph bring this tiny baby in and lay him in Simeon’s hopeful arms. And Simeon took the baby up in his arms and blessed God. Took the Consolation of Israel into his empty arms and thanked God. And Anna after all her unremarkable years or prayer, of inhabiting God’s house with no husband, no miracles, no displays of glory. Just being faithful in ordinary days. I like to think that when she saw the baby she knew instantly Who he was, picked up the folds of her dress, and ran over to him with the abandon and glee of a little girl. I picture her and Simeon passing the tiny baby back and forth, just laughing and dancing with joy.

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And maybe Isaiah was right when he wrote that the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married (54:1). Maybe the ones who wait the longest with the least will one day be blessed just a bit more? And maybe Saint John was praying the best prayer of all when he wrote the last prayer of the Bible: Even so, Come Lord Jesus. A prayer of longing for Jesus to return.

So until He does & until our desperate prayers are answered, we light candles against the darkness and eat crepes to makes us happy and read poems by Gerard Manly Hopkins and sing hymns and keep telling each other the good stories from the Good Book. We keep sweeping the floor and washing dishes and driving to work, doing ordinary things over and over again in the midst of our ordinary days. With broken hearts or broken bodies.  Waiting maybe for angels or manna or honey from a rock, but maybe it will only be the Messiah.

Stories and Light for The Ones Who Are Waiting (It was Candlemas)

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Yesterday was Candlemas. I wanted to write all about how people used to take their candles to churches to have them blessed for the coming year, wanting the very light in their homes to be flickers of holy church-light. How in France they celebrate with crepes. How it’s the Holy Day that commemorates Jesus being brought to the temple when he was a baby and placed into the waiting arms of old Simeon, and how Anna the ancient widow beheld the face of her Redeemer. How Candlemas is probably rooted in wild pagan festivals to celebrate the ending of winter and the lightening of days, but how maybe we need all the wild festivals we can get our hands on when the world is so dark and so, so cold.

And I wanted to write about how this small, unnoticed holiday is maybe a holiday for the people who are waiting. Huddling under blankets, crying eyes out in the dark or in the car on the way to work. Waiting for things to change, waiting the long days of every month for a baby to get conceived, or for a husband or for something to make this cold world feel not quite so broken.

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And then by the time I realized I wanted to write all of this, the day was waning and it was warm (40 degrees! In February!) so we all went outside and I played baseball with Will while Margaret sat in her carseat draped with a blanket, and then it was dinner time and the house was a mess and I was trying to cut up cabbage to sauté and dropping most of it on the floor because I was so hungry that my hands were shaking and then all the crying and screaming and bedtime drama, and then after the children were in bed I pretty much huddled under a fleece blanket in a state of shock or something. Drinking tea and reading My Mother’s Sabbath Days, coughing piteously, like the rose in The Little Prince.

So I didn’t write what I wanted to write, which is this:

That we don’t sing songs about Anna and Simeon in Sunday school. We learn about the ark-builders, the giant-slayers, the ones swallowed by fish or walking through parted seas. We hear about the women who get babies: Hannah, Mary, Elizabeth. And all the miracles and angel choruses, and they are grand and we need every story of the dead being raised and the oil lasting and the bread being multiplied and the angels singing over fields of sheep.

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We don’t sing songs about the quiet old folks who sat in the temple and waited all those long, aching days.  But maybe we should. Maybe we need the unremarkable story of this old priest who served in the temple, doing ordinary things every single day, just “waiting for the consolation of Israel.”

And the old prophetess Anna who was at least 84 years old and had lived most of her years as a widow. She was single. “She did not depart from the temple, worshipping with fasting and prayer night and day.” (Luke 2:37). Her entire life was a prayer. She prayed; that’s who she was.

Anna and Simeon, they lived quiet days. Days of longing and ache and somehow of trusting and worshipping God in the midst of the longing and ache.

And then Mary and Joseph bring this tiny baby in and lay him in Simeon’s hopeful arms. And Simeon took the baby up in his arms and blessed God. Took the Consolation of Israel into his empty arms and thanked God. And Anna after all her unremarkable years or prayer, of inhabiting God’s house with no husband, no miracles, no displays of glory. Just being faithful in ordinary days. I like to think that when she saw the baby she knew instantly Who he was, picked up the folds of her dress, and ran over to him with the abandon and glee of a little girl. I picture her and Simeon passing the tiny baby back and forth, just laughing and dancing with joy.

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And maybe Isaiah was right when he wrote that the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married (54:1). Maybe the ones who wait the longest with the least will one day be blessed just a bit more? And maybe Saint John was praying the best prayer of all when he wrote the last prayer of the Bible: Even so, Come Lord Jesus. A prayer of longing for Jesus to return.

So until He does & until our desperate prayers are answered, we light candles against the darkness and eat crepes to makes us happy and read poems by Gerard Manly Hopkins and sing hymns and keep telling each other the good stories from the Good Book. We keep sweeping the floor and washing dishes and driving to work, doing ordinary things over and over again in the midst of our ordinary days. With broken hearts or broken bodies.  Waiting maybe for angels or manna or honey from a rock, but maybe it will only be the Messiah.

Winter Solstice and Some Good Things This Week

It’s not as cold as it should be for December.  We had a little dusting of snow a few days ago, but mostly it’s been incredibly mild. I’m still emotionally scarred from last winter, so I’ve been glad for the warmth.

Today it’s raining, Will is still in his dinosaur skeleton pajamas, and the house is strewn with Toddler Things. An empty egg carton by the front door, a little football, a bin of trucks dumped on the floor, tiny plastic beads everywhere. Whose idea was it to let a 2 year old play with tiny plastic beads anyway?  The floors are filthy. The days have been getting darker and darker and finally, today, the tide turns. Light comes again. Sunset at 4:30 in the afternoon will soon be a shadowy memory. And until then we will keep our Christmas tree lights on and burn all the candles and sit by the fire and use the oven all we can and wrap gifts in bright paper and sing songs of joy in the midst of this darkness.

A few sparks of light in my little home this week:

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A package from a friend that held a perfect cream colored throw blanket, two little presents, and hand-me-downs! Including a gray and black flannel dress that is perfect for this breastfeeding mother who doesn’t like wearing pants but also doesn’t have many dresses to nurse in. I think if Jane Eyre were a stay at home mother with babies (and no servants) she might wear this dress.

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And speaking of flannel, this one (above) from LL Bean. Bought it with birthday money last month and I literally wear it night and day, at least 3 days a week. Even though it hasn’t been cold cold, it’s still been cold enough that I want to feel cozy.

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This book of winter and Advent reflections compiled of writings and poems by Madeline L’Engle and Luci Shaw, sent by a sweet friend as an unexpected Christmas gift. I cannot even tell you how beautiful and perfect this book is. It is my new one and only Advent book. Forever.

And this. True story. I had four errands to run last night (because I do not run errands with both children, for the sake of any small remaining shreds of sanity I might possess), including two different grocery stores plus Target because Christmas snuck up on me and why oh why didn’t I get all the gifts weeks ago? But I didn’t! And John, bless his angel heart, went over my list with me and went out. To all four places. At 8 something pm.  And came home with everything, plus a bottle of wine. Amen.

Our winter CSA. One box packed full, every other Saturday. Spinach, kale, potatoes, squashes, onions and garlic and brussels sprouts. Beets, radishes, broccoli, carrots. More than enough for each week, and every time we get a box Will helps us pull things out with extreme delight and puts the potatoes in their little wooden bin, the squashes on their shelf, etc. So thankful for these beautiful boxes of sustaining food.

Will walking around saying, “It’s Advent! Advent means waiting! Waiting for Christmas!” And literally just loving this baby sister like it’s his job. I know we will have some insane quarrels on our hands pretty soon once she starts taking his toys, but for now, this:

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And finally, a conversation with a precious 9 year old child at our church this past Sunday about the Chronicles of Narnia. Which he’s reading for the first time. He was literally brimming over with excitement and joy.  And I teared up a few times talking with him, just thinking about the glory of those stories. The Last Battle. Puddleglum! And about this child discovering oh all the things (he’s on the Horse and His Boy right now, which I told him was one of my top five favorites). He asked me which character I would want to be (out of the first two books), and why it had to be Lucy who found the door, and why Aslan would let Eustance come in if he knew what would happen. And as we were talking about the last question, and how maybe a story like Eustace’s is important and why it might be so, this boy’s twin sister came over and said, “Like Paul?” And I almost cried again. Yes, child, like Paul.  And like Peter. And like all of us. As a matter of fact, I am going to go re-read all of them starting right now.

Another post coming soon, I think, with pictures from our Christmas tree expedition! Anything rather than vacuuming these floors and wrapping gifts and packing for our impending trip! Merry Christmas & happy winter solstice, y’all!

 

Snow, and the Exodus

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Snow is just a thing that happens in my life now.  Like being kicked from the inside by a tiny person who is 14 or so weeks away from emerging into the world.  How far away from home.

Growing up in Nashville, snow was always a miracle, a blessed event that meant waking up early to watch the news or listen to the radio (because I somehow had the good fortune of being a child without the internet) to see which counties would cancel school, and then a day in pajamas with pancakes and hot chocolate and frolicking outside in whatever strange snow-worthy clothes we managed to find.

It’s snowing now.  I’ve been listening to Iris DeMent’s gorgeous album Sing the Delta for the past few hours.  I feel homesick for the south.  John literally brought home bacon, and a ham hock, from The Piggery this afternoon.  And a cow’s heart, which the butcher threw in for free, and which I have no earthly idea how to cook.  John had gone in for liverwurst, telling them that his wife was pregnant, and the girl behind the counter agreed enthusiastically that liverwurst was a good source of iron.  I think that’s why he got the cow’s heart, because they were out of liverwurst.

I have a pot of black beans simmering on the stove and a little stack of corn tortillas to eat them with for dinner.  And even though snow just happens in Ithaca like any normal thing, it still seems like a miracle to me, like manna.

Beautiful Daughters of Hope

The last morning I had Little Girl,  I took her to Walmart to pick up some pictures for her to take with her to her new (and hopefully permanent) home.  I wanted to find one of those little plastic photo albums to put the pictures in, one that she could hold with her chubby little fingers and not do much damage to.

On the drive there (we had just left a visit with some of her relatives), Little Girl started screaming angrily.  I think she was hot and hungry and tired, but I think she was also mad that she had gotten to play with someone who had been the closest thing to a mother to her, and then I took her away.  Mad that whenever she starts to feel happy and comfortable somewhere, she gets taken away.  So I told her to scream louder.  I screamed with her in the car.  I told her I was mad, too.  And I was, and I wanted her to know that it was ok to be mad.

Anyway, we went in to Walmart and I found the little photo books I had been hoping to buy, and the first one in the box was light blue and had the word “hope” written on the cover.  Perfect.  When we got home (with about 15 minutes to spare before her case worker was supposed to show up) I slipped the pictures in as quickly as I could manage, and sealed them in with scotch tape.

I looked up a quotation that I had thought of after seeing the word “hope” and also knowing how important anger is in this child’s situation, and I wrote it on the back page of the little photo book:

Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.”  (Saint Augustine)I hope the girls’ new mom helps them be angry about what has happened to them.  I hope she screams at the top of her lungs with them and talks with them and lets them know that it is a good thing to be angry about what has happened to them.  And I pray that somehow a deep courage is also tied up with the anger, and that in the midst of everything, and against all odds, the Little Girls will be able to hope.

Goodbye, Baby. Part II

I finally heard from DSS yesterday.  They found a place for the girls with some relatives who live about an hour away.  I took Little Girl there yesterday to visit them and to see her sister (who is already there).  They have a pretty house on a quiet street with neatly mowed lawns.  They have dogs and cats which will keep Little Girl endlessly entertained.  The family seems really wonderful.  I didn’t expect to feel good about letting Little Girl go someplace else, but I truly think it’s going to be a good place for her.  Of course as soon as I saw her big sister, with her big solemn eyes, my heart fell for her, too, and I wanted to take her home with me right then and there.

My mom had sent a box with some clothes and a baby doll for Little Girl, but she didn’t take to the doll (kept biting its head and throwing it to the ground) so I gave the doll to her sister yesterday, and she instantly cradled the doll and didn’t let it out of her arms the whole time we were there.

So anyway, last night was my last night of putting the pink pajamas with monkeys on her and putting her sleepy self into the crib (well, it’s a pack & play). Last night of checking on her before going to bed and seeing her all squinched up in some cute position.

I’ve packed up all her things, we visited with some other relatives in the park this morning, and then I rode with the case worker and Little Girl to her new home.   When we left, I kissed her goodbye and told her I loved her, but she didn’t seem to notice that I was leaving, which was hard.  She’s already lived in 4 or 5 homes that I know of, so I think she has already developed some pretty thick skin when it comes to trusting grown-ups.  She already knows that the people who take care of you either hurt or neglect you, or send you to another home for some reason.  So, so sad.

Not really sure what to do now.  I ate pretty much a whole box of Annie’s Mac and Cheese and now my stomach hurts and I need to find a place for her booster seat and some other things and I just don’t know where to start or what to do.

Right now I have to trust what I believe to be true, that Jesus, in dying on the cross, descended into the depths of human suffering and misery and took all of it into himself and reigns over it and is present in the midst of it and is going to fix it all One Day.  But also right now, I am only believing that in the thinnest, hanging on by a thread kind of way, and it doesn’t seem real or true.  On the drive home, while I tried not to sob like a baby in front of the case worker, I kept scanning the rolling hills and looking up at the blue horizon, hoping for some sign that maybe God would peel open the sky, send an army of angels or something, and start to fix this broken world, right now.  I didn’t see anything, no blazes of light or glory, and I didn’t feel any ounce of comfort or even hope,  but that doesn’t mean that the Holy Ghost wasn’t brooding over those hills– and over the Little Girls– “with warm breast and with ah! bright wings,” as Hopkins says.  Even so, come Lord Jesus.

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