Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Pause in Advent #3

 I'm joining Angela and a gaggle of other fine folks for a Pause in Advent. 
By accident I have stumbled on a wonderful book for my Advent reading: C.S. Lewis: A Life by Alister McGrath. I've read one other Lewis biography and have read and re-read Surprised by Joy, so I was excited to discover this relatively new look at Lewis's life. I find him to be a hugely sympathetic figure, in part because he's one of those Christians who stays ever-mindful of his own wretchedness, and I find that comforting.

I'm a wretch; are you? I'm prideful, ambitious, judgmental. I hold a grudge. I am in many ways a thoroughly crappy human being. Those of you who know me in person might think I'm being hard on myself, but I'm not. I have my good moments, and I have good manners, and I do genuinely like and love a lot of people, which probably makes them think more highly of me than they should.

Here's a quote from the book that had me nodding: "One of the major themes of Till We Have Faces (1956)--arguably the most profound piece of fiction written by Lewis--is the difficulty of coming to know ourselves as we really are, and the deep pain that such knowledge ultimately involves."
It's a horrible thing to really look at yourself--to look beyond the carefully constructed facade and the blue ribbons and the perfectly organized pantry, the shiny resume, the A+ report card. I try not to do it very often. But something has happened in the last six months. I am finding myself completely unimpressive, and while it's kind of a bummer, I also recognize it as a good thing.

God comes to us in the form of a baby born to a poor woman. God comes to us in the most deeply humble way one can imagine. I think to appreciate such a god, we have to also appreciate our own humble state, our own poverty. If you worship power and status, you're not going to worship a god who seems to have no interest in who has the most toys or guns or money.

But if you understand that your poverty is no different from that of the tax collector or the prostitute or the leper, then you might be happy for the birth of a savior who finds you--wretched, messed up you--worthy of redemption.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

A Pause in Advent: 2


 I'm joining Angela and a gaggle of other fine folks for a Pause in Advent.

I'm having trouble coming up with something to write about this week. There are all sorts of things that I could write that would sound good--inspirational sorts of things, spiritual tidbits. But for some reason I don't have it in me.

Do you ever get tired of words? I don't often get tired of reading words, but I get tired of hearing them. Right now I'm very tired of opinions. I'm tired of people telling me how I should feel in in the face of Ferguson and the Eric Garner non-indictment. You know how I feel? Sad. I feel really, really sad. And tired.

We talk, talk, talk. We talk past each other and over each other. I'm tired of talk. Talk doesn't change anything unless the talk is between two or three people who are willing to be generous listeners.

I heard a story on NPR tonight about a group of people, black and white, who have been gathering regularly in Ferguson, MO, ever since August to talk about what they can do to make things better. I like their kind of talk. They seem like they're trying to be truthful and open-minded. They seem like they've learned to trust each other enough to tell the truth about their experiences.

That's the kind of talk we need. We need talk that builds relationships. We need talk that builds trust. If there is no trust, there is no love, and if there is no love, there is no change.

What does this have to do with Advent? I'm not sure. Except that maybe one thing we need to keep talking about is the fact that God is with us, and if God is with us, all things are possible. Even peace. Even love.

Those people who meet in Ferguson to talk about how to make things better? They close their meetings with a prayer. I believe God is with them, and that change will begin with them.

Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

First Sunday in Advent: My Poverty

I have joined Angela and others in a Pause in Advent. Check out Angela's site for a list of other bloggers participating in this annual event.

"Advent isn’t a holiday party. It doesn’t pressure us to conjure up a hopeful face, ring bells, and dismiss the foulest realities we face. Advent isn’t about our best world, it’s about our worst world."
                      --Christina Cleveland (for her full post on Advent, go here)

Last year, I didn't start writing about my poverty until the third week in Advent. This year I have a cold, so I'm going to write about my poverty right off the bat.

First, I should say that as colds go, this isn't a bad one, just a very congestive one. Still, I'm missing church on the first Sunday in Advent, and that's a bummer. I was looking forward to going to the all-congregation "Let's Get Ready for Advent" meeting at 9:45 and to the service afterward. Instead, I'm sitting on my couch with a box of Kleenex and a cup of peppermint tea, blowing my nose every three minutes.

And I'm sort of laughing at myself, too. A couple of weeks ago I was thinking that maybe this year would be different. I'm more organized this year. I've already baked eight dozen Christmas cookies and popped them in the deep freeze. I've already come up with a satisfying list of presents for the boys and sent it to the Man, who will do the ordering and shopping. So maybe, just maybe, I'd end up enjoying Advent this year, really get into it.

This year, I'd be all about the light.

And then I got this cold--it showed up Thursday night, interrupting my plans for a productive weekend of sewing, cleaning and yardwork--and thought, nope, nothing's changed. I get a cold or some kind of bug every Thanksgiving. I thought this year might be different because I'm much more diligent about washing my hands whenever I come home from the library or shopping, and besides, I had a bug in October. Shouldn't I get a pass until the new year?

Nope. No pass. And I suspect that whatever I do, however organized I am, the next few weeks leading up to Christmas will be a slog. Maybe I'm wrong. But it doesn't pay to get optimistic this time of year, not for me at least.

So you can imagine that I found the quote above helpful. Advent is a time when we watch for the light--but the light isn't here yet. It's a dark time of year. It's easy to lose hope. This has been a dark autumn for a lot of people I know--unexpected, terrible deaths, cancer, broken relationships. The fact is, it's a dark world.

In her post on Advent, Christina Cleveland goes on to write, 

"So, this Advent season, let’s engage and lament darkness as we seek the Light. In doing so, we participate in the ancient longing of the coming Messiah, a longing that began when the earth was still formless and empty, persevered in the hearts of Anna and Simeon, and continues today."

Having a cold isn't a big deal, but it's been a useful reminder that when we put our energy into making a perfect weekend, holiday, Christmas season--a perfect anything--our energy is misdirected. The darkness is too big. Advent is a time to remember just how dark things are and little we can do to change that. We don't have it in us. 

But the Light does.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Little Gift I Gave Myself

The notes I took last year after the Christmas madness was over

I have a Christmas notebook. It looks like this:

It is the best thing I've ever done for myself, other than marry the Man. In it, I write down what we gave our various relatives for Christmas and what they gave us (so we can write our thank you notes). During the year, I keep notes on gift ideas or the boys and the Man. Given that I can forget a great idea in the time it takes me to get from the shower down to my desk, there's no way that in December I'll remember that inspired thought I had in May.

Today I had the brilliant idea to write down where I've hidden the gifts I've already bought. I have spent more than one Christmas eve tearing through the attic and my study closet looking for stuff I know I bought but can't for the life of me find.

As I write this, I'm printing out calendar pages for November and December. This year I will conquer Christmas. I will stay ahead of it. I will create space--mental, emotional--to observe Advent and not give up by the second week of December because I feel overwhelmed by everything I have to do.

Right now my big plans include:

1. Start making Christmas cookies next week. Freeze them, don't eat them.

2. Have gifts for relatives mailed by first week of December at the very latest.

3. Take annual Christmas card photo of Travis over Thanksgiving weekend and off to the printer the following week. Cards out by the week of the 8th.

4. Have all my gifts bought and wrapped by the 15th.

Can I do it? Well, I've got my notebook to remind me what supplies I need and don't need. I've got my calendar pages ready to be filled in with deadlines and chores. I have many years of Christmas misery to spur me on. Stay posted. I'll post my official calendars soon.

Monday, November 3, 2014

I'm Back

The quilt I'm working on--almost finished after two years!

Whew! Did not mean to be gone so long. Hello! How are you?

I'm fine. Sorry to see October go, especially since I feel like I missed most of it. The first two weeks were busy-busy--writing deadlines, school visits, volunteer work, the works. Then, two weeks ago, I got hit by a lovely bug, the sort that lingers and leaves you feeling totally fatigued. I got done what had to be done, and then I napped.

Finally, starting last Friday, I started feeling better. I feel mostly okay now. The idea of writing a blog post, for instance, doesn't leave me sprawled across the couch, hand over my eyes, wailing, "I can't! I just can't!"

So here I am.

Latest news: Will turned 12 on Friday. That's rather hard to believe. As 12-year-old boys go, I think he's pretty typical, which is to say, a delightful pain in the butt. He's very funny, but also tries too hard to be funny, so that you finally have to send him out of the room because he's driving you crazy. It's clear that he's about to have a big growth spurt (his feet are already enormous), but he's still shorter than I am. Yet that doesn't stop him from coming up to me and asking, "How's the air down there?" It was funny the first eighty times. He still lets me put my arm around him at church, and he kisses me goodnight every night. Hope that never stops.

Jack is joining the swim team! He texted me on Friday to ask if he could get a physical this weekend because he was starting practice on Monday. The Man and I were a bit concerned, given that Jack really isn't much of a swimmer. He had a couple weeks of lessons when he was 9 or so, but that's it, and he's never been on a team before or shown any interest before last week.

As it turns outs, the swim team at Our Fine Upper School is open to everyone--and apparently that means everyone. One of Jack's friends told me this weekend that last year a kid joined who couldn't swim a stroke. So Jack should be fine. The fact is, he's tall and thin and might make a great swimmer. Me, I'm just happy he's getting more involved at school and getting some exercise.

And as long as we're in the business of doing new things around here ... The Man signed up to help with our new church's Christmas market. Did I tell you we've started to go to a new church? I think we've finally found the place for us, Mr. Southern Baptist and Ms. Cradle Episcopalian. It's a Methodist church with a big-but-not-too-big congregation and a very active youth program. I hadn't planned on switching churches, but the little Lutheran church down the road we'd been going to didn't have much going on for teens and tweens, and as a sixth grader, it was time for Will to get active in youth group.

So I came up with a great idea--Will could go to youth group at another church with his best friend Gavin. Of course, I'd have to check out the church first myself, though I'd heard good things about it from Gav's mom, my good friend Sarah. I hadn't planned on us switching churches as part of the deal, but Reader, I fell in love. Beautiful church, friendly people, big enough so you could slip out after the end of the service without making small talk (important to us introverted types), small enough not to feel like just a face in the crowd.

And most importantly, the pastor rocked. She kept preaching on stuff I'd been thinking about, and she kept making sense. So I got the Man to go, and he liked it, too, so we've been going every week. And last week, when the need for volunteers at the annual Christmas market was announced, the Man leaned over and whispered, "I think I'm going to do that."

Reader, I married him.

Well, I married him twenty years ago, but still. The Man is even more introverted than I am, so I'm very proud of him for getting involved. And for showing up at church every week. That's what we're up to these days: showing up--to swim, to make silly jokes, to help out.

Me, I'm showing up to reclaim my house from a month of total neglect. To plan for the holidays now so I can actually enjoy them when they roll around. To sit with a friend whose going through a hard time.

And I hope I'll be showing up here a little more. Stay tuned!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Here's a Weird Thing That Almost Always Happens to Me (& that I wish I Would Remember)

So Jack's on the debate team again this year, which requires him to spend his Saturdays going to tournaments around the state. These tournaments are in some ways homegrown affairs, in that all events are judged by parents.

There is an online sign-up sheet on Our Fine School's Debate Team website, and all the good and righteous parents promptly sign up at the beginning of the year for the pleasure of leaving home at 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning and listening to teenagers discuss the pros and cons of euthanasia, deliver speeches on the importance of protecting the environment, and give dramatic performances of Kiplings' "If--."

I have never signed up. Not once. Not even.

The Man did, once, thus fulfilling our family's burden for the Debate Year 2013-14. He came home from his one tournament drained and pale, having spent the day locked up in a classroom, the flourescent lights flickering, his stomach grumbling, his whole body transported back to 1983, when the hellish road of high school was still his to traverse.

I swore again then I would never, ever sign up to judge.

First of all, there are all sorts of helicopter parents at Our Fine School who eat this stuff up. There is no place they'd rather be than back in high school, reliving past glories and judging other people's children. Why deprive them of their fun?

Secondly, I can't go back to high school. Cannot. Can't face the flickering lights, the stupor that comes over me the second I enter a classroom. And I'm not that good of a listener. I tune out after five minutes. I'd be a horrible judge!

But duty calls. It knocks on the door. In my case, it knocked three times. First, it knocked on Tuesday when the debate coach sent out an email that he needed two more judges for this week's tournament. Then on Wednesday, when he emailed to say he needed one more judge. Please, oh please, I thought, let somebody else sign up!

But nobody did, and this morning, the coach emailed again. His subject line read "A Plea."

Well, I can't stand to see a grown man plead, but it took me two hours to talk myself into emailing him to say, Okay, maybe. I'm not committing just yet, but I might. Will there be pizza?

The coach emailed back within minutes to say thanks for considering it, but someone else had already signed up.

And that's what always happens. Always. I resist when someone asks me to do something I really don't want to do. I say (to myself) No! I will not do it! You can't make me do it! And then, when I finally talk myself into doing it and say, Yes, okay, if you really need me to do this ... Well, I'm almost always let off the hook.

Now why do you think that is? And why do I keep forgetting?

I just don't know. But I do think my Saturday will seem all the sweeter because I said yes and the universe said, You know what? Why don't you sleep in instead? Thanks, universe. I will!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Decluttering Hiatus

 My new treadmill desk! I'm walking as I write this!

My decluttering mission has been on hiatus for the last few days. Okay, maybe for a week. The problem came when it started raining last Wednesday. I didn't want to leave out any freecycling, and I didn't want to go to the recycling center in the rain. So my project came to a standstill.

Then, on Saturday the weather was good, but instead of decluttering I took a field trip. There's a plantation site about twenty minutes from my house, and I've been meaning to go out there forever. When the idea seized me on Saturday afternoon to go take the tour, I decided it was exactly the right thing to do.

Well, it was a fascinating tour, and I'm glad I went, even if it got in the way of my life being perfectly organized. The Stagville Plantation was the largest plantation in North Carolina, with over 30,000 acres and 900 slaves. The state owns the land with the main house and another section with a row of slave cabins. Both the main house and the cabins were lived in by sharecroppers until the 1950s, and the buildings are fairly well-preserved and maintained.

When I go to historical sites, what I really like to see is the domestic stuff--the furniture and the kitchenware and the buttons and combs and shoes (leather, unlike cotton, lasts). To my surprise, there wasn't much of that at Stagville. The furniture was sold off by family members years ago. The buttons? They're still there, somewhere under the dirt. There have only been two archaeological digs on the site, and they were small in scope.

So of course I came home and instead of decluttering emailed an archaeology professor on the Stagville Historic Site board of trustees and asked what gives. Turns out she's trying to get a dig going in the next few years. She said I was welcome to volunteer as a digger. I wrote back and said, Sign me up!

I guess it's for the best that I can't go dig now. I need to do finish my own dig here. More reports soon, I hope!