Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Centerpieces (a poem)




This December presented the opportunity to fulfill a life-long secret dream of being a florist as I worked at a dear friend's flower farm for a few days.  The first day was spent cutting Eucalyptus branches and "greening" a series of lovely centerpieces.  I was surprised by the boldness the work required, both physically (flowers are tougher than you think and need to be firmly pushed into the waiting foam if you want an arrangement that holds up) and creatively.  Thinking about it a few days later, I wrote this poem.  I'd like to think it applies to more in life than just flower arranging, but I'll let you be the judge of that.  
 
Placing flowers
in soft, moist foam
is not for the faint of heart.
It takes a certain pressure,
confidence and bravery.
Tight and small, fearful
arrangements will not do,
not for a wedding, a feast,
or even a funeral. 

Step back, observe
the bigger picture;
dare to make
bold choices,
be proud of
their effect.

Photo Source: Here.

Linking with the lovely Laura and the Unforced Rhythms community.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Emptied and Humbled



You hollow us out, God,
so that we may carry you,
and you endlessly fill us
only to be emptied again.
Make smooth our inward spaces
and sturdy, that we may hold you
with less resistance
and bear you 
with deeper grace.

 
- Jan Richardson

 
It's Christmas Eve morning.

The cats are tearing back and forth through the living room, jumping over the couches via the computer.  Broken ornaments cover the carpet, the corners and a bright silver angel's wing lays on the hardwood floor.

I guess this is how it is.

Things fall down, get broken and we're riding into Christmas on the white water rapids of chaos.

We're down to one red bottle of antibiotics in the fridge, but every night is split still, not with angel choirs and shining stars, but coughing and cries of "Me need go potty!"  

Every morning I brace both hands against my side, stifling sneezes and coughs, gasping in pain as even the weakest of jolts causes what feels like a broken rib to spasm.  The doctor says it's a virus that's settled in the connective tissue of my ribs causing inflammation.  

Really?  

She sent me for an x-ray anyway and on Christmas Eve's eve I stood in a thin white gown, shivering and leaning against the cool white screen while the machine looked through to the very bone and gristle of me.

Will those x-rays show that I threw my son's breakfast out that morning after a bit of sass and told him he needed to make his own?  Is there some spot, small and gray, that reveals the grief of my Grandmother's passing, the memories of individually wrapped cut-out cookies she mailed at Christmas time? 

It hit me yesterday - I had somehow come to expect this Christmas would be different.  Last year, living in a grim apartment, we didn't expect much and the day was great, we made-do and were surprised by grace.  

But somehow, in a new house, with the kids a little older this year, I guess I gave in to that old illusion that maybe we could somehow rise above the chaos that is our every day, by which I mean to say, the house might be a little more tidy, the children a little less demanding, my body a little less failing.

The kids are clamoring now to wake up and the cat is breaking one last silver ball.  The angel's wing shimmers still in the lamp light.  Soon they'll descend the stairs and it will be what it will be - a messy, sometimes happy, sometimes sad kind of human holiday.

If angels appear, if light shatters the darkness, it will not be of our own making.  It will be because we've dropped the pretense, kneeling to clean, to hug, to read and wait together - emptied, like Christ, humbled. 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Impossible (Advent Week 4)

The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1897

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”  But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.  The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.  He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”  Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”  The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.  And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren.   For nothing will be impossible with God.”  Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.     - Luke 1:26-38

I don't have any new words, friends, for this old, old passage seems too full of light for me to grasp.  Although Mary has been my Advent companion for the past several years, this week I find myself out in the dark, cold fields with the shepherds, out somewhere in the wild darkness still, waiting for the light, yearning for a star and a song to rend the night.  But I can share a few old words of my own, a story written back in the early days of being a family of six, when the shock of a surprise pregnancy of twins was still wearing off in the summer of 2012.  May you be blessed wherever you find yourself this week.  

* * * * *
Impossible . . .  

Snacks at our house are served in small glass Pyrex bowls - that and baby food and cereal and anything else that needs to be consumed.  They’ve also been used to serve cheerios to pet ants in the back yard and make a perfect bed for my daughter’s small, white beanie-baby kitten.  

We have almost ten of these bowls and go through nearly all of them on a daily basis.  When the twins are old enough to take part in the great American tradition of sitting in front of the TV with a snack in hand we will go through even more of these bowls.  

The other day I ordered four more from Amazon, thinking we’d stock up, but I accidentally ordered the wrong size – 6oz, not 10.  One morning I served my four year old his cereal in one of these new bowls and he noticed the difference right away.  

“Mom, this bowl shrank!  How did it shrink?!”  

I couldn’t resist telling him that I did it.  I wove an elaborate tale about how I was very tired because shrinking bowls was hard work and I’d stayed up all night to do it.  

His questions abounded, “How did you do it?  Can you shrink more?”  

“No, only four – it’s very hard work,” I replied.  

“Did you put them in hot water?” “Can you shrink me?”  

Later, on the way to preschool, he commented from the back of the van, “Boy, you must be really tired if you stayed up all night shrinking bowls.”  

//

He questions everything, but not the idea that it can be done because for him there’s no reason it can’t be done.  There’s also no reason for him to think he won’t be a jungle explorer when he grows up (along with the whole family, and my job will be to stay back at the hut with the babies!) or dig a hole big enough for us all to live in on our next trip to Grandpa’s house (my job, he says, will be to stay at the top and make sure it doesn’t fall in on everyone else).  

He’s too young to absorb the laws of physics which declare that glass bowls can’t shrink (though they do break!).  Too young to separate with clear lines the possible from the impossible.  

A few weeks ago I met a new couple at church who asked, in getting to know me, “Do you have kids?”  My reply to such questions until now has been something like, “We have two kids, six and four, and then we also have twins.”  Splitting them up this way seems to make it sound more sane, less the impossible reality that it is.  But that day, for the first time, I replied without qualifying, “I have four kids.”  

//  

I wander around the house these days, treading water, trying to stay afloat while crunching layers of cheerios under my feet and endlessly ferrying dirty glass bowls from one room to another.  

I tell myself I’m the least likely candidate to be in charge of what feels like a small daycare.  I think to myself, “This is not me.  This is not possible.  How can I be a mother of four kids?”  

//  

Children don’t know the difference between what is and isn’t possible.  Maybe this is part of what Jesus meant when he said we should become as little children if we’re going to be able to enter into the kingdom of God - the kingdom where the lines between possible and impossible and all the other polar opposites we think the world depends on are so deeply blurred.  

God's doing something strange here at my house, something no less amazing than shrinking glass bowls.  God works late into the night – taking my tiny heart, my too small life and cracking it open.   

It’s very hard work you see - with human hearts it’s two steps forward, one step back, as the muscle contracts God reaches out, yet again, to pry it open.   

I’m learning to lean into the expansion, to believe in the impossible and say with Mary, “Let it be unto me . . .”   

God, make me, make all of us, like a little child, like Mary.  Teach us to believe beyond what we can see, grant us the courage needed to live into the impossible things that you have made possible. 

I've been blessed this Advent to journey alongside of John D. Blase and Winn Collier - as we reflect on the same scripture passage each week.  Stop by their spaces to see the story through a different light.  I'm honored that they accepted my request to cast my lot with them this year and my heart has been blessed by an opportunity to walk with others through this darkness toward the coming light.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Rudolph's Bargain Patch (A Christmas Story)



 

It sat alone, across the muddy tractor tracks, next to the stinking porta-potties in a wide and muddy pit.  


Enjoying the wagon ride out to the fields, the hacksaw in hand and children all around, my husband and I hardly noticed the wide plastic sign, our sights set firmly on cutting our own Douglas or Frasier fir.  


We’re skinny-tree people, the taller and spindlier the better and we were excited to head out across the muddy fields to cut and claim our own piece of Christmas.  Two three-year-olds in tow, we climbed down from the wagon and followed vague directions toward a distant hill.  


The boys lagged behind by the time we reached the first stand of trees - small, pre-cut firs - and my husband I exchanged worried glances as we subtly scanned the increasingly alarming price tags.  We held a quick and quiet conference in the midst of the evergreens then turned as a family and headed back toward another field where the hopefully cheaper Douglas Firs waited.   


Things started to fall apart a little then.  Little people stumbled over stumps and ditches, hands were cold and ears.  There was an argument with an older child about the need to zipper a coat.  We crossed the muddy wagon tracks to a field of still shorter trees and slowed, again exchanging looks over the price tags we passed. 


Subtlety aside, our older children picked up our tone and started exclaiming over the prices too and then we were that family with too many kids exclaiming in overly loud tones about the cost of the trees.


Picking a tree in winter with young children in tow is a time-sensitive endeavor.  We were running out of patience, hesitant to pay for an overpriced tree that would be dwarfed by our nine-foot ceilings, but more hesitant still to spend the gas and time needed to drive to a cheaper tree farm.  


That’s when we remembered Rudolph's Bargain Patch, a humble cluster of homely castaways – a veritable island of misfit trees.  I ran ahead to scout things out, saving precious little feet unnecessary footsteps, and planned to signal back if the small patch held any promise.  I slipped and scurried past a storage shed and several industrial outhouses before stopping by an overly cheerful sign emblazoned with a chipper little red-nosed reindeer. 


Wagon-loads of people road by as I dove into the muddy patch, running quickly between the trees and, lo! to my great surprise our salvation lay in that lowly patch.  I ran again into the roadway and waved the family over, uncontainable excitement at the prospect of getting a “steal” written across my face.  


The trees were enormous and cheap, so cheap, especially in comparison to what we’d just seen.  The six of us bobbed and wove among them, stumbling and slipping in the mud, exclaiming over and over, “Look at this one!” and “Oh my gosh, this one is huge.”


In the far back corner sat the mother-load, a great monster of a tree, exceptional both in girth and height – a tree so big and cheap that we couldn’t not get it.  


Still, we hesitated, grinning, circling, exclaiming and wondering.   

Would it fit in our house?  Our tree stand?  Could my husband even carry it?  


Finally we brought it to a vote and with smiles all around, from the littlest face to the largest, we voted to embrace the glory of that giant, forlorn tree. 


Stumbling a little on his feet, my husband hoisted the heavy trunk halfway to his shoulder while I “spotted” from behind.  Then the six of us marched, triumphant, from the bargain patch, our faces filled with the glory of largess, the audacity of abundance discovered in unexpected places. 
 

People in the passing wagons smiled at us and I imagined the picture we made – a family short on cash with a gaggle of kids carrying this great misfit of a tree out of the mud and muck like we’d just won the lottery.


I was tempted to be embarrassed, but mostly I was joyful, exuberant.


Reading the Magnificat this week it occurred to me that maybe this is something akin to what Mary felt when she sang her famous song about the upheaval that was taking place within her.  Maybe the joy we felt lugging home that pearl of great price wasn’t so far removed from what the shepherds felt, slipping and sliding their way to the manger; not so different from the awe and welcome the wise men experienced entering the child's simple home after their costly exposure to Herod’s court.  

When the tree was home and in the stand, my husband cut the wrapping off and there was a pregnant pause before whomp! it sprang out of its confines filling the room and our hearts with joy.  

Every time I descend the stairs and spy it’s swollen circumference in the corner of the living room, Mary's question chimes within me, “How can this be?”  This is the story of Christmas, this story of searching and finding what you didn’t know you needed in a place you never would’ve thought to look.      

Credit for this sweet photo HERE.

(This post is dedicated to all of the families we've secretly and openly ridiculed for their ridiculously fat Christmas trees, specifically the Hicklins and the Ladases and in memory of my Grandfather Hausknecht whose Christmas trees got a little shorter and wider every year.)