Sunday, December 30, 2012

Christmas musings and a book!

         Our family held our 28th wind-up toy race on Christmas morning, an annual tradition since our first married Christmas in 1984.  Santa brings each person a windup toy and places it carefully at the top of their stocking.  Before the presents are unwrapped, we line up at the kitchen door, wind up our racers, and place them on the starting line.  This year, with both daughters, a son-in-law and a boyfriend at home, the starting line was a little crowded with six entrants in the race.   
         The wind-up toy that gets to the kitchen island first (or just goes the farthest before puttering out) wins.  You never know what Santa has brought you.  Some of the toys go in circles, others do back flips.  Some crawl forward slowly - but in a straight line.   This year, Alison gets bragging rights for a year with her winning panda on a tricycle - who didn't make it all the way to the finish but went farther than anyone else.  
         And Christmas morning begins with cheering and laughter.  I can't think of a better way to start the day.


The Sign of the Cross

       On one of my meditative walks Dec. 23, I tried to clear my mind of all the high-voltage pressures of the season and reflect on my chosen word of peace. I also was here to pray for discernment and a sense of the presence of God in making an important decision in my life for the New Year.
       I felt numb. Where was the Prince of Peace in this time of frenzied activity? Where was his message to me in what path to take? As I rounded the bend, I stopped dead in my tracks. The rising sun made the sign of the cross on the pathway. A step to one side or the other and the cross disappeared. A sense of blessing descended. The weight of the season lifted. I felt a settling of my heart – and the message that we find what we seek but it may take stepping off the familiar path.


      Recently, a lifelong dream came true for me. I opened the cover of a book - a real, honest-to-God book - and saw my name on the table of contents page. What a gift! Now I feel like an author! Along with twenty-one other women, I can call The Modern Magnificat mine. The title is perfectly chosen, I believe. When Mary speaks the poem of praise known as the Magnificat early in the book of Luke, she is still in awe of the way God is at work in her life and the role she gets to play in the redemption of the world. In The Modern Magnificat, I get the chance to tell my own story of responding to the call of God, as do the authors of the other chapters, all of us Baptist women called to ministry. This time of year especially, this book comes as a beautiful reminder that God is always calling, always redeeming, always inviting us to join in that work. I invite you to read the stories in The Modern Magnificat: Women Responding to the Call of God, and I pray that they will inspire you to be always responding to God as well.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Winter light

       The following posts were written before the tragedies in Connecticut. But I have to say a few words first.  Our prayers and thoughts are with the families and friends of all of those who suffered such tremendous loss. We all feel your loss on such a personal level. 
      My oldest daughter is a teacher - on this day, in this school, she would have been hiding her kids in closets or bathrooms and going out to face the gunman.  I’m a counselor and worked in local mental health clinics and hospitals for my first years of practice.  This gunman could have been one of my clients.  Some of my best friends at church are the first graders - Maggie, Claudia, Madeline, Nicholas.   This story is all of us.
       I have no words for this chaos, no platitudes or quick political answers.  Theology brings more questions than answers for me. 

        Really all I have left is “walking with.”  I almost wrote standing with and then thought no.   I will not just stand with you - I will walk with you - through the grief, through the faith questions, through the nightmares.  Through this unimaginable Christmas season. 
     So, for the families faced with a grief I cannot even wrap my mind around, for teachers, principals and staff at schools everywhere, for the counselors and social workers who struggle daily in an overwhelmingly inadequate mental health system, for all the first responders who walked into a horror beyond imagination, and for all the children,  I... and hopefully, we all, will walk with you. 



Yuletide Flowers
      It’s been a strange December. I had a friend from high school, who was a healthy, fitness and wellness person, die suddenly of colon cancer. Another friend relapsed with her alcoholism and yet another was injured in a car accident when her husband ran a stop sign. The other driver in the accident died. All their lives in that one moment were completely changed. 
      Feeling melancholy reflecting on these events one morning, I found myself with 30 extra minutes on my hands before I had to be into work. I went to one of my favorite parks, Charles Towne Landing, and walked through the rows of blooming camellias. A mist hung over the park, cocooning me with the bouquets. I felt sadness and joy all rolled into one. I think that’s one thing I love best about the human heart. It’s big enough to hold both. Just when I think it’s going to break, joy comes through a camellia.


       I love how my short trip to Africa has made me cognizant again that the whole world doesn’t run on U.S. time.  It’s early summer in South Africa - not almost winter.   The days are warming and the jacaranda are blooming.  Families are planning to spend their holidays at the beach in the sun.  The daylight is brighter, warmer.  The Christmas lights are up, in the bars and in the stores, but with none of the overblown extravagance of a U.S. mall.

        Back at home, the thin light of early winter is upon us.  Days are shorter and colder.  We light fireplaces and candles to hold off the darkness.  Houses are dressed with strings of white or colorful lights.  We hold onto the light in these darkening days - but it helps me to remember that in other places in the world, the jacaranda are blooming.


"There is a crack in everything; that's how the light gets in."
                                                                                    -- Leonard Cohen

Lately it seems
I'm always digging,
Digging until fingers bleed,
Until hands are raw.

Rock and dirt,
Layer upon layer,
With no end in sight,
No cause for hope.

But then this!
Unsought after, unexpected,
Unbidden and unbiddable,
As miracles must be.

Just a crack, and I see
That under the dirt
 Is not more dirt,
But another sky.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Heroes and Holly

      Recently, I got the chance to meet one of my heroes. As a writer and a person of faith, I have long looked up to Anne Lamott. She is, as I put it on the day I met her, someone who gives voice to the unspeakableness in my soul. Her insights are shared with such openness, humor, and irreverence, it makes me feel a little safer to say what I'm really feeling, even (perhaps most especially) about God. Anne was at First Baptist Church, Decatur, GA to talk about her latest book, Help. Thanks. Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. She was funny, honest, and even more gracious than I expected to those of us who asked her to sign our books and pose for photos. I will certainly be a lifelong fan now. I need people like Anne to remind me of the value of messy honesty, and the importance of story, as she does in this passage from her latest book:

"We are too often distracted by the need to burnish our surfaces, to look good so that other people won't know what screwed-up messes we, or our mate or kids or finances, are. But if you gently help yourself back to the present moment, you see how life keeps stumbling along and how you may actually find your way through another ordinary or impossible day. Details are being revealed, and they will take you out of yourself, which is heaven, and you will have a story to tell, which is salvation that again and again saves us, the way Jesus saves some people, or the way sobriety does. Stories to tell or hear -- either way, it's medicine. The Word." (Help, Thanks, Wow, pgs. 52-53)



Deep within the soul of the lonely caged bird,
Beats the rhythm of a distant forest.
Etched upon its broken heart,
The faded memory of flight.”
  -Ginni Bly, poet 

Bah Humbug

          OK. If I'm perfectly honest, I sometimes tire of happy, positive statements - the like of which you might find in spirituality blogs such as this. When I find I've had my fill of holiday cheer and party glitter, I sometimes indulge in some sappy Hallmark movies that have all kinds of terrible life events happening to the characters. I weep and wail as my boys snicker at this odd ritual of mine. There are times I also like to read books or quotes such as the one above full of pain and pathos. This feels real to me. It somehow cleanses all the holiday glitter and trappings. Christmas, more so than other holidays to me, is a packaging of all my losses, a reminder that my brother's not here, that I'm divorced, that I’m short on cash and a long string of other lacks, including obviously a lack of faith for not having the requisite amount of cheer during the holidays.
           Instead of fighting the mood, though, I've learned to give in. To walk through the sadness. To acknowledge the rhythm of a distant forest. To find comfort in a winter sky that once burned bright over a winter stable. To weep inconsolably at ridiculous Hallmark plots.
          Oddly enough, I always feel better.



         I've taken to calling it the Christmas crap.  It's all the stuff - the nutcrackers, carved Santas, bowls in Christmas colors, angels in every shape and size,  snowmen, etc, etc, etc   The holiday doo-dads Don and I have accumulated over almost 30 years together fill four giant plastic bins.  
       After spending two weeks in South Africa (and the last few days there in a tent with no electricity!),  I'm feeling overwhelmed by the overblown commercialism and all the shopping, decorating and stuff that makes up our American Christmas.  I find myself creating empty space, putting the doo-dads back in the bin (or in a bag destined for Goodwill!) and making room for photos that trigger memories of places we've traveled and people we love.  In comes the  holly, boxwood, and cedar.  Out goes the plastic and the shiny... except for Christmas lights. You can never  have too many Christmas lights!
     Love came down at Christmas.  Let's make room for the Love.