Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 is gone . . . Really?

2010 is almost gone and 2011 hovers in the wings.  HAL is certainly dead by now, and we are talking on visual phones just like the Jetsons.  All the water I saved for Y2K is long gone, including the bottles that leaked and contaminated the upstairs bathroom with what is most assuredly black mould. 

I'm starting this new season with an upper respiratory creeping crud, and since my Christmas letter is not done yet, I envision an early Easter tome.  So this is life in the 21st century:  something like life in every other century, just with more gadgets. 

May this year find us productive, faith-filled, intentional about realtionship, and set on applying our energies to what matters.

Happy New Year!

 Here's me groovin' with my little granddaughter.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Ugliest Little Tree

            The dusting of snow on the windowsills shifted back and forth with soft winter breathings.  There was no storm in the air as a pale gauzy sun descended behind the horizon, only a chill skimming fields laid out ivory with winter’s wrinkles.  Shortbread was baked and stored.  Christmas cake plump with dried fruits was wrapped tightly in foil and packed away in the unheated summer-kitchen, taking advantage of nature’s refrigeration.  Festive cards from friends and family framed the doorway to the parlor and hung on string drooped across walls.  The only thing left was to decorate a tree.  After supper, Daddy bundled up and set off with his ax into the bush to find the perfect pine.  
            Boxes of ornaments and tangled strings of big knobby lights stretched across the floor as wide-eyed youngsters waited impatiently.  At the sound of stomping boots outside, we flew to the inside kitchen door in anticipation of Daddy’s grand entrance to present his acquisition—the perfect Christmas tree.  The door opened with a winter whoosh filled with prickles and green.  There stood the ugliest little tree we had ever seen.  It limped forward directed by unseen hands.  Daddy planted it solidly in the middle of the linoleum for inspection unaware of the sinking feeling this undernourished specimen was having on our Christmas spirits. 
Our farm, almost completely surrounded by healthy forest, teemed with pine and spruce.  Even along the country roads, trees lined the fences free for Christmas cutting. This five-foot waif with its sparse branches and spare twisted needles looked more like the dry cast-offs that fill the dump a week after celebration, rather than the ones that usually adorn homes with fragrant crushed scent.
With not just a little whining and exaggerated sighing, the tree was placed in a bucket of sand and stood in a corner of the parlor cleared for the occasion.  Colored lights were strung first—wires showing, with ghastly flickers fingering all the vacant places.  Red bulbs, green bulbs, golden orbs, and odd little handmade do-dads found secure moorings, with anxious hands vying for the next ornament to come out of the box.  Holiday hymns played softly on the hi-fi as errant snow flurries peeked in at the windows.  Long strands of tinsel were meticulously laid bough by bough till, in a frenzy, impatience and enthusiasm started pitching the silver streamers every which way.  Tinsel landed on the floor and in the hair.  Some even lighted on the tree and some on me. Giggles had long replaced sighs.  Laughter had long displaced whining; and somewhere in the transformation of our attitudes, the tree received a miraculous transformation, as well.
 As the treetop star found its final perch, we stood back to ooh and ah at our handiwork.  It was surprisingly beautiful.  Our glittering tree, however, seemed more ornament than tree.  In the decorating, it had become something greater than itself.
I don’t imagine I thought deep philosophical thoughts at the time.  I was just relieved that we’d rescued the ugly little thing and let Daddy off the hook.  But as I think back now, I am reminded of the rich ornaments of grace that adorn my ugly little self.  Just as a small sparse pine tree became greater than itself with the help of our Christmas decorations, so my small sparse life in the hands of the Savior has come to reflect the adornments of a bright spiritual transformation.  God has made me more than I could ever possibly be by myself.  The beauty has come in the change.
Out of all the thickly boughed evergreens to choose from, I’m not sure why Daddy would pick the ugliest one in the forest.  Intentional?  I like to think that as he walked through the lonely snow-sculpted landscape, he chose the tree in most need of adornment.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Manger Without a Baby

          I equipped the big walk-in closet in the living room of our tiny duplex with a green second-hand crib and stocked the built-in drawers with soft little layette items.  Long, wispy, white curtains tied back with yellow ribbon made an inviting entrance to a close room.  Everyday, my tummy grew larger.  Every day, I fingered and rearranged clothes, blankets, and toys.  I felt happy and excited, despite the christening I gave many toilets and gutters.  Even with the little white pills, I threw up several times a day for nine months.
The baby squirmed and punched, kicked, and danced.  I massaged hands and feet that fluidly traveled across my abdomen, pressing tight under ribs, giving me indigestion.  The mountain of head and back rose, fell, and shifted.  I had always wanted to be a mother, and now I was.
 November’s sun began dipping to the south.  The air held a slight chill, even for California. I counted the days—expectation high.  With my friend’s stethoscope, I listened to the music—the strong, steady rhythm of life. But two weeks overdue, the rhythm stopped.
Kelly and I met in mid-August 1973.   We worked with an over-zealous ministry that concentrated so much on Christ’s soon return that we made many decisions abruptly and unwisely.  One of those was to marry quickly with little preparation or counsel.  I guess we feared the Lord might come back before we had a chance to have sex. The night Kelly introduced me to his parents for the first time, we calmly announced our engagement.  For all they knew, I could have been an ax murderer.  Actually, for all I knew, Kelly could have been an ax murderer.  After we left, his folks “discussed” our decision long into the night and woke with hangovers in the morning.  But they bravely came along side, and we did marry.  In this time of “Maranatha madness,” we were encouraged by our pastor not to have children, but to totally commit to the “work of the Lord.”   We married in October, and by February, I was violently throwing up—a sure sign I was to be a mother.  We figured my pregnancy just had be a miraculous work of God.  Of course, as our friend Jo put it, “Those who use faith as birth control are called parents!”  And so we were to be.
By the time I was six months pregnant, we moved from the ministry’s communal quarters to a small duplex down the street.  For the first time, Kelly and I lived alone.  It was a precious and necessary time to actually get to know one another after several months of marriage. 
Then the baby died.  November was a blur of death, tears, comfort, cremation, and far flung ashes.  Thanksgiving came and went.  It was hard to feel thankful when my arms ached to hold my little one.  As cheery Christmas songs began to filter through radio speakers and shopping mall sound systems, my ache grew to intense pain. One part of my heart leaned in to the Savior, understanding that He too felt pain and loss.  I wanted to trust that I was safe in His love and care.  Another part of my heart felt cold and brittle, betrayed by life and Lord.  A battle raged.  Tears seemed never-ending, dreams dashed.  Questions went unanswered.  Joyful Mary knelt by her beautiful baby Jesus in nativity scenes all over town, but my manger was empty. 
Years have added layers of depth and understanding to my loss, but even today there is a raw place—a place of longing for our baby girl Noelle.  With a new Christmas season right around the corner, I have been reflecting once again on the incarnation.  What does Christ’s birth really mean to me?  My thoughts, as they often do at this time of year, are interwoven with thoughts of the death of our first child. Noelle was named for Christmas—a reminder of the miraculous event when God came to earth as a baby.  It has crossed my mind, “What would our lives be like if Mary’s manger had been empty.  What if Jesus had never come?”  My sense of loss is great, but the devastating loss of Christ as God’s gift to the world would be unfathomable.  No high priest to intercede for me, no forgiveness, no fellowship, no whispers of comfort in the night, no eternal promise of heaven. 
After the funeral home cremated Noelle’s remains, Kelly and I drove to a secluded wooded area near his grandfather’s cabin to spread the ashes.  The tiny white box fit in the breast pocket of Kelly’s plaid shirt.  He held my hand tightly as he led the way uphill, brushing by scratchy shrubs and tree branches.  Weak in body and spirit, I struggled to fix my steps on the narrow rugged path.  Tears fell and feet fell.  When finally we reached the top, we prayed.  We held one another and the remains of a life so little known, then threw her ashes to the wind to become a part of the trees and bushes in that special place.
Christ carries my death next to his heart.  He came to set me free from the spiritual consequences of my sin.  I am free, but the way is often rugged; and through my tears, I don’t always see too clearly.  I have no idea what’s up ahead. But He is in the lead.  He holds my hand, and all I need do is stick to the path and match Him step for step. 
I met that tearful Christmas many years ago with empty arms, but because of the babe in Mary’s manger, because her manger was not empty, I continue to have hope.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Summing Up

Okay, I’m already going through withdrawals.  No text to read, no novels to annotate, no research paper to slave over.  No fun blog to create that no one in the world will ever see now that it will be off the class to-do list.  (By the way, if a person tells a joke in a forest and there’s no one there to hear it, is it still funny?) 
Whatever shall I do with my time?  And to top it off, when I went on MyAVC  to register, there are none of the English classes that I want or need on-line for the spring semester.  There was so much blank space on the English page that came up, I was ready to try math!  (No, not that desperate yet.)  Besides that, with a very grim look at our finances and with pay cuts at work, we decided we couldn’t really afford to continue my schooling right now.  But I’m kind of wondering how much more therapy will cost after these hits to my heart and psyche. 
That said:  I have really enjoyed the class.  It’s been a lot of reading and writing, but I love to be challenged; so making the time has been worth it, and the occasional whines were only attempts at having my husband appreciate all my efforts. 
Maybe with no classes next term I will sit down and read all the books I bought as a result of this class.  I got a book of Nabokov short stories (not ready for Lolita yet), The Great Gatsby, which I used for my paper, Nafisi’s memoir called Things I’ve Been Silent About, Daisy Miller and Washington Square by James, and a book of short stories that includes, among many others, stories by James and Fitzgerald.  And, yes, I made these Amazon and B&N expenditures before the hard money talk!  Now all I need is a like-minded reading group, a veil, bombs raining in the streets, and coffee over ice cream, and I’ll be set.
It has been really fun dialoguing with classmates.  Though we would probably not recognize each other if we passed by in Barnes and Noble or at the Liquid Bean or Butlers, even without being face-to-face, we have in many respects been more transparent.  In a classroom, sometimes the age and cultural differences can create barriers.  In the on-line setting, rather than create inhibitions, I think it actually lowers them; and besides that, you don’t need to mess with the AVC parking lot.  (Is the construction done yet?)  I have enjoyed reading your blogs and responses to the discussion questions.  And it has been fun to see the progress made especially by the people in my group.
I wish you all success and happiness.  Keep up the good work!  And just a tip:  Take all your writings from class, spiral bind them, and some day when you are famous, they will be a rich legacy for your children.  Mustn’t let them go to waste!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

 Mindful of the Wind

It was a grown-up breeze,
Chasing clouds to kingdom come,
A torrent of shwooshing leaves and dirt,
Bending the unresolved,
Persuading trunks and posts
Of a resisted opinion—Be free of binding roots!
It was a grown-up gust,
Inverting umbrellas,
Giving a different view of the world,
Invisible, strong,
Like the punch of a fresh thought.

Lilly Green