Archives for December 2013

All that glitters

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We’re lingering in the post-holiday haze of sparkly lights and time spent with real people in the real world. I spent so little time online over Christmas, I almost forgot what it is I’m supposed to do. Tweet this, pin that, read, comment, write. I used my time well, gathering stories here and there, as well as snippets of conversation overheard from my post as chief guardian of the kitchen sink.

The girls and my husband reveled in the bustle–extroverts in their glory–with people, noise, and music floating from room to room on the scent of one gigantic turkey. My son, the most like me in many ways, hid in his room and escaped to the basketball hoop for fresh air, giving him just enough space to show a little peace and goodwill to all men, or admiring cousins as it were. The holidays are hard on the introvert.

My mind is slowly turning towards the new year. As I linger in the old, I find I’m not quite ready to turn the page yet. I have unfinished business with 2013, as if it didn’t consult my wish list when it doled out the presents. I received other gifts, some better than I imagined, but the ones that danced in my dreams at nights, didn’t become a reality.

I am no closer to feeling rooted to a place than I was a year ago. This year didn’t gift me with the sudden desire to stay put and settle down, instead I find myself mourning the loss of my former life abroad. I want to want the American dream, but instead my heart returns repeatedly to Paris, to London, and to Horgen with its soft forest floors of pine needles and horse-trodden paths. I feel like a woman who returns repeatedly to the wrong lover and a tempestuous relationship, one that can’t possibly last because it is built on the stardust of one’s imagination. The wide-open world has been my lover for many years.

I hoped to reach the end of this year and tell you there will be a book with my name in tiny black typeface across the bottom. Instead, I put on my “I’m so happy for you” mask (the one I use to cover up my real face, the insanely jealous one), and congratulated a huge cross-section of people across the web and in my real life who signed with an agent or publisher, or found the job of their dreams after looking for exactly one week. Yes, there has been much sweating from my eyes this year, and that “sweat” has soaked more pillows than I care to admit. I want to be real with you, friends. It is painful to watch other people’s dreams come alive while one’s own withers on the vine.

I decided today, the eve of the eve of the New Year, that these disappointments shall become the compost of my life. I remarked to my brother yesterday, that I have grown a will of steel, largely from aiming for the impossible and seeing a few of my many hopes realized. I see now that this steel-will is built on the back of loss and mourning and unrealized dreams, rather than built on everything that glitters. Beneath the weight of this compost, I realize the thing that glitters most, is me.

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Join me in the comments, and tell me about your year. What shaped you the most?

While shepherds watch their flocks by night

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We visited Israel this year, and our guide, an Israeli Jew, was unable to take us across the Palestinian border to Bethlehem. “No Jews allowed,” he said, and so he hooked us up with a Christian Palestinian guide on the other side. We sat at the Israeli border in our guide’s white van, throwing apprehensive looks at the bullet-pocked wall with barbed wire strung across the top. “I’ve never lost a tourist. Yet.” He said it with a straight face, and I’m certain I turned to my husband with a look of undisguised terror.

“It’s another world on the other side,” he continued, “but you’ll be fine.”

We gathered our belongings, and our children like ducks around us, and we made the slow, single file march through the metal corridors and barriers until we set foot in Palestine. Our new guide waited in a car, parked near the exit gate, with complete disregard for the curb and other vehicles. When we emerged, the only tourists in a sea of Palestinians, he gathered up my chicks, while I gathered up my conspicuous blonde hair, and we drove, hot and cramped, to Bethlehem.

He took us to arid, scrubby fields, where shepherds used to gather their flocks at night. And while I took photos and attempted to have a spiritual moment, the guide pointed to greener pastures in the distance. “My grandmother has a farm there, it is our family’s for generations, and now we cannot go. It is over the border. We are kept out.” I muttered something sympathetic, while trying to envision a chorus of angels announcing the birth of Christ. This guy was messing with my moment.

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A few feet away, my children scrambled on rocks, and a group of Christians sat beneath the shade of a white tent singing heavily accented hymns. In the distance, the fields stood dry and still. One of the kids slipped on a rock, and the guide requested that they kindly STOP. IT. NOW. I snapped fuzzy photos of hills and a no man’s land of forgotten farms.

I walked beneath the words “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” at the entrance to the garden and fields, and tried to feel the glory. I didn’t feel it in the expected way, a shiver of emotion running down my spine, or a welling of tears. I felt the glory of God in the most ordinary way, the same way I feel it every day. It is a simple, constant knowing. The glory of God still comes to those of us who feel un-exceptional in every way. We shepherds of dishes and daily life. It comes to those who scramble through life and frequently slip up. It comes to the outsider, the one with the hair and the skin that doesn’t look like all of the others. Glory falls on fallow ground and hymn singers and on those who find themselves unable to return home. The glory of Christ’s birth is for all of us, everyday, whether we feel the moment or not.

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It’s another world on this side of the manger and the cross. It’s a world where everything is turned upside down, where God confines himself to human skin, and we clothe ourselves in the Holy Spirit. We are strangers in this land, always looking across the time-continuum to the place our soul knows as the family home. Someday we will go there, and we will be strangers no more. Gloria in Excelsis Deo.

The song in-between

Today, I’m joining Emily for the last of Tuesdays Unwrapped for the year. I love this exercise of looking at the small and ordinary parts of life with fresh eyes.

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My mother-in-law once told me that she grew up “happy and content as a cow”. She never looked beyond her everyday life and wished for something more. She felt completely content in her own “pasture”, as it were. I shook my head when she said it, and I thought, how sad to never long for more of life than what’s in your own backyard. Fortunately, I had the good sense to keep that comment to myself.

I thought of our conversation today. I thought of it when it snowed again for the third time in a week, and I looked at my shovel and the long, narrow driveway with apprehension. I thought of it when my husband literally snapped his fingers from the sofa to get my attention this morning. (He’s still recovering from God knows what, but really? Snapping?) I thought of it when I listened to my daughter plink out Joy to the World on the piano, and when I sat in the carpool line, and when I boiled water for my third cup of tea. I can’t not think about it during every ordinary moment I live today, because I have no idea what it feels like to not want more.

I want to wander and roam and understand and read and listen and write and laugh and sing more. All the time. These desires drive me, and I confess at times I judge others who don’t feel this way too. I also confess to feeling guilty because I want so much from life. It feels wrong somehow, when I place my inner desires against the outer workings of an infinite universe. They seem too big and too small at the same time.

A friend recently told me that she denies herself nothing–if she wants it she eats it, if she feels it she expresses it, if she desires it she buys it. She loves God, and she adores her life. This too, is a total mystery to me. I deny myself a lot. And believe me when I say, my thighs and my husband thank me for it. No one wants this ball of crazy unwound.

I thought of my mother-in-law, my friend, and little girls who play Joy to the World, and it occurred to me that while our joy is wrapped up in the person of Christ, how we live out that joy will look different for each of us. It’s ok to want more. It’s ok to want less. As long as the source of our joy is the same and we live fully out of our own unique personality, there is no shame. The ordinary and the extraordinary beat to the rhythm of the same song, and there is enough of both to envelop us in the music.

When there’s no fast-pass to the end of the drive

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We have a long and narrow driveway. Our house sits back from the street, and it takes the length of (insert some sort of football field reference), before your reach our garage. It’s the type of driveway that makes you cringe when it snows, because you know the length of it might kill you, and you don’t really want to die wearing sweatpants, with dirty hair, and a shovel in your hand. (My husband would totally want to die this way, because it would prove that he worked so hard, all that work finally did him in.)

However, last week, dear husband lay on the sofa recovering from some stuff and some things, while I shoveled the length of our narrow drive after two snowstorms blew through. The snow muffled the sound of everything but the scrape of my shovel on ice and gravel. I repeated the motions of slide, lift, and throw, until my back and shoulders hurt from the effort. When I stood up straight every few feet to relieve the ache, I took a second to look forward and to look back. The progress felt so slow, almost imperceptible. Although, each time I stood up for a moment of relief, my boots stood just a little further from the house. And that tree? It used to hover in front of me, but from here, I could peer through the branches. The lights in the windows of the house grew slightly dim and fuzzy as I shoveled my way to the street.

I hoped someone would drive by and spare me the rest of the drive and the gigantic mound of snow piled at the very end of it. I wished a snow-blowing neighbor would see my slow progress and lend a hand. I may have hallucinated a scenario in which the snow plow miraculously appeared on our street and offered to take one giant sweep up the drive, at no cost to me. Because this? This sweating into my fleece pants, and imperceptible movement, and back-breaking effort? This cost me something.

It cost me in time and energy and heart. It cost me in comfort. It cost me an incredible amount of effort, when it would have cost snow-blow guy or truck-with-plow absolutely nothing. The long and narrow road is a hard one for those of us who take it one step at a time. For some, it’s a quick swipe through. It’s the fast-pass at Disneyworld, where pass holders secretly smile at their genius, while all the suckers in the long lane watch them climb aboard. I want the fast-pass. I don’t want to pay the price for the hard things. I don’t want it to cost me in tears and an aching back/head/heart. I don’t like the length and tight borders of this particular path I’m on right now.

When I reached the end, with visions of hot chocolate dancing in my head, I hit the hill, that crumbly mound of snow pushed aside from the street plow. I wanted to cry. Dear God, I’d come so far and now this–one last impossible hurdle. I looked back at the house, back from where I came. And I picked up my shovel, and dug into the silence.

Slide, lift, throw.

Losing Sabbath

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Our first three-day holiday weekend living in Switzerland was the worst. We sat around eating bowls of dry cereal that tasted like sawdust, while the kids cast mournful glances at the refrigerator and my husband gave helpful suggestions such as “Maybe you should stock up on food in advance. You know, plan for the weekend?” After resisting the urge to throw his bowl of dry cereal in the trash, I promised through gritted teeth that I would try to remember.

One month prior to the dry cereal incident, our family moved to Switzerland from the United States….

Join me to read the rest of the story on Sabbath at The High Calling today. While you’re there, have a look around. They do great, God-honoring work.