Friday, December 30, 2016

Pouring Out The Bitter To Taste The Sweet


It's the last week of 2016 as I sit to write and likely the last plunking of these keys I'll manage before 2017 arrives in all her fresh resolve and ruddy winter glow, which is fine by me. This tiny space of time somewhere between post-Christmas hangovers (I'm talking about the child sized kind, times three), and pre-new year wonder has been a breeze of peace to the whirlwind these last few months never fail to be. No matter how carefully I map out the holiday season it always manages to run on ahead of me, much to the delight of three curly headed babies here at home. The excitement and anticipation, glow and glitter, they ate up every bit of it with voracious appetites, thus the "hangovers." So this breathing space of a few days is treasured and I'm spending it partially snuggled away with the girls (feet propped near the hearth while poor Will's turn to ice in his makeshift office - love you, dear!) and partially ignoring 2016's parting gift of a freak sinus infection plague.

Is it just me or was the year of the monkey as temperamental as its namesake?

I suspect I'm not the only one looking back and thinking these sorts of things. What went right? What went wrong? What to leave behind? What to carry on? All of the usuals have been plaguing me as I tidy up the Christmas things and organize around a blank calendar, but I've shoved away the answers more roughly than I ought. I already had the year sized up long before the itch to review came knocking: 2016? The year of the bitter cup, or at least so I decided.

There, there, you don't need to stop reading, I promise this isn't a letter of complaint. I mean, I'll own that I spent an embarrassing amount of time becoming proficient in my own bitterness, but that's just it, it was my own bitterness. The year was merely a cup for the filling.

I wallowed, though. Wallowed right on through the year on up until yesterday morning when I was thumbing through A Tree Grows In Brooklyn. Or was it this morning, I don't really remember. Anyhow, I was marveling a little bit at the shouldering of responsibility for blatantly idiotic decisions by some characters, and how it seemed a type of humility, no matter how steel bound, that allowed other characters the shoulder space to stand a little higher and be a little better. Something in there struck a chord of "I need that!" and kept striking in a way that kept me thumbing until I realized the connection. I didn't have to look far to figure out where that needed to be applied.

But that's all I'll say about it because I refuse to add the straw that breaks the back of my mess of a camel by being what George Macdonald calls a "creeping christian."  Who "gaze at the marks of our own soiled feet, and the trail of our own defiled garment. . . . mourn over the defilement of ourselves, and the shame of it before [everyone]. . ." That would be going out with a real bang now, wouldn't it now.

With myself out of the way, the view is explicitly different. Rather than the bulking shadow of my own petty struggles, all I can see is grace brimming the cup and running over on the landscape of the year like sunlight might do on one of those gorgeously clear, blue sorts of days.

It was the year of Wrennie bird bursting into our lives with her life song.
Of Lanna marking her fifth year and finally summoning the courage to dance.
Of celebrating two years of Selah and her housewifely, joyous little soul.
Of falling asleep next to Will and waking with three small heads to look over and cold dolls tucked against our backs.
Of dropping deeper roots of faith together through prophesies and Spurgeon.
Of anniversaries and birthdays that are more important than last year's and less so than the next.
Of having enough bread flour and buttermilk to tempt curious hands to cover the kitchen with it.
Of fattening bookshelves and finally finding the right souls to wander with in their riches.
Of a perpetually filled kitchen table and overflowing coffee and tea pots.

No, I'd not change a bit of it, and I think I can see where things went wrong now. My heart prayer of "Lord of mercy" that covered every little thing really should have been turned inward. It shouldn't have been "Lord have mercy on this messy kitchen, this burned meal, these tantrums, those missed opportunities. . ." No, it should have been "Lord have mercy on me for not seeing You here, for this flash of anger searing clear vision, for that moment completely emptied of faith just now. . ."

So for me, I hope that 2017 will be different in that way.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Advent, Handel's Messiah, And Falalala


It's November 30th as I sit to write - the end of Autumn and beginning of the Christmas season. Just about all the trees in our neighborhood have caught the seasonal burn now and most days have enough bite to require a solid sweater. Grey mornings and evenings find our gas hearth cheerily warming eighty fingers and toes (three mini and my own stiff knuckled set), and our bits of "scheduled studies" have all been set aside to focus on the collection of Christmas books enticingly displayed on the piano and Advent.

Advent is different this year, as it is every year, but I'm learning a little more about what strikes wonder in our hearts and truly helps us celebrate, what I want to stick in the girls' hearts if even just by the repetition of it all and nothing has really appealed enough to stick. We've experimented with crafts and chocolates and books and genealogies, but this year I scaled back and just used what we already love: Handel's Messiah. Just a few tracks a day with the scripture that accompanies it, and so far it's been everything I've been looking for: simple yet thoughtful, quiet but interactive, a wondering backward look yet also a hopeful gaze forward. Sometimes we draw, sometimes we play, but most often we just sit and listen. I didn't expect the girls' to really care anything about it, but it seems like they're as interested as I am. Just today we were listening to the portion with the angels declaring Christ's birth to the shepherds and I about jumped two feet in the air when I realized Handel tried to catch their arrival and departure; "Listen!" I said, "do you hear the angel wings?" So that's exactly what the next several minutes were occupied with - us listening to the track carefully (twice!) just to catch the sound of angel wings. Even Selah stilled herself to cock an ear.

But I'm making the days sound all peace and comfort. Then again, I guess I don't really need to expand on the insanity that is the holiday season. Commercialization and political diatribes aside, the motherly perspective is enough to strike some of the "merry" from Christmas. All that tightly wound excitement winding more tightly by the day; pre-dawn mornings and post bedtime nights; trying to balance nutrition and holiday greed with heavy doses of root vegetables and scripture; bank accounts emptying into the mountains of boxes daily being dumped on the porch, all of which have to be quickly snatched and hidden away before passing less fortunates do it for you; annual winter sniffles compounded with extra indoor romping due to cooling weather inevitably resulting in a broken lamp and picture frame or two. Tis' the season falalalala.

But then, certain moments crack the fragile exhaustion of the to do's and let the joy beneath seep through. Like tonight, when all three girls fell asleep in those precariously lumped-together beds in their room, and me, right in the middle of them. To see the peace on those faces, arms thrown one over the other, curls in a mass tangle on the pillows, and restful breathing in syncopation with my own . . . any lingering irritations from the day melted to the warmth of wonder. All the tight spots in my shoulders, all the hard spots in my heart, all of me seemed to suddenly dissolve in the more awing presence of grace mysterious and golden. All was forgiven, all was at peace. I could have dissolved to tears had it not been for someone turning over, everyone stirring in response, and the moment passing. It seems strange, even to me, that I wouldn't strain to cling to what was there just a moment before, but I have tried before and discovered (time and time again) that it's just too holy for my human hands to hold. Something, perhaps, like the moment when the Shepherds heard the chorus of angels declaring Christ's birth? An indescribably wondrous moment, but when it passed, it had fully passed and there was only the echos of wonder and hope where it had once been, and that was enough.

Hmph, Shepherds watching over their flocks by night . . . mothers tending sleeping flocks of children . . . sort of similar. It seems a much more endearing season when I see it from that perspective.