There You Are: A Thanksgiving Welcome

adirondack

She walked onto the stage with a microphone to magnify her slight Southern drawl. She looked into the eyes of the writers gathered in anxious circles below, and said, “There you are!”

She paused to let the words sink in as she opened her arms, embracing the room in welcome. “We’re so glad you’re here!”

With her words, shoulders around the room relaxed. Lips curled into smiles. We nodded at one another and to the speaker on the stage.  “There you are!” she said. And we knew we’d left our homes only to arrive at a new one.

….

When I enter into a new place, my thoughts often turn inward. My first thought is, “I’m here”, as I assess the emotional tenor of the room based on this internal declaration. I scan the center of the room, and inevitably end up feeling my way around the outer edges, dragging my arrival and its emotional baggage behind me.

Because I instinctively turn inward, I’ve thought a lot about the welcome I received at the writing workshop and how it changed my perspective. “There you are,” I found myself repeating, and my gaze shifted outward, while my body settled into its center. I stopped wondering what others thought of me as I sat clutching my half-used pen and scraggly sheets of paper torn from a friend’s notebook. I looked around the room thinking, “There you are, friend. There you are, fellow artist. There you are, soul sister.”

As we celebrate Thanksgiving, I want to extend my thanks and a “There you are!” welcome to you too, dear friend. Regardless of what this holiday season holds for you, whether it is a less than eager reception, loneliness, over-commitment, grief, contentious disagreements, or a warm family welcome, I hope you consider this a place where you feel a spirit of kinship. I hope you find a sense of belonging as we face this crazy, broken world together. I’m just as mixed-up, sad, and defiantly hopeful as you are this November. I’m just as eager to give thanks and receive grace.

There you are, friend. I see you. Consider this your invitation to a seat at the table–you belong here. Let’s feast on hope and offer it to those we’ll be rubbing elbows with this Thanksgiving.

On Feasting and Thanksgiving

IMG_7448

As we celebrate a season traditionally marked by harvest and abundance, and we gather around the table to feast, may I encourage you to look past the turkey and the stuffing? Past the pumpkin pie and the whipped cream and the way your waistband doesn’t expand as easily as your belly?

Look past the fullness of the table and see, perhaps for the first time, the abundance of people sitting in the chairs pulled up to it. See the feast of family or friends set before you, whether there are two or twenty pairs of eyes returning your gaze.

Allow the feast of memories you’ve gathered throughout the years join you in celebration. Above all, remember. Remember the fruit of your hard work, your persistence, your love. Remember when the hands and hearts around the table carried you. How they held your grief or your joy with equal willingness.

Take notice, with clear eyes, the feast of this year. Of days stacked upon days in which God proved Himself present and faithful. Do not wait for gratitude to arrive, but seek it. Stir it up. Let it take residence in your soul.

Remember the feasts of the past. Enjoy the feast of the present. Open it like a gift. Hold onto hope for the coming feast, the celebration in which all things–you, me, and the heaving, heartbroken world–will be made new.

This year, may you feast on it all. May you find yourself nourished: body, soul, and spirit. May your table be filled with the extravagance of gratitude and hope. And may you be wise enough to recognize it when it comes in imperfect and awkwardly  wrapped packages.

Let there be light

pockets of light via kimberlyanncoyle.com

“Remember God’s bounty in the year. String the pearls of His favor. Hide the dark parts, except so far as they are breaking out in light! Give this one day to thanks, to joy, to gratitude!
~Henry Ward Beecher

I know you hear the stories the same as I do, the reports of darkness in so many corners of our world. These are not rumors–real flesh and blood flash across our screens, fists raised in protest, faces frozen in anguish. Like me, you hear the cries of childless mothers, of motherless children, of disease and hatred and injustice and despair. You wonder if darkness will strong-arm the light into submission. You wonder who can give thanks when it feels as if we live in a perpetual eclipse of the light-bearing Son.

My prayer this Thanksgiving is for us to train our eyes to seek out small pockets of light. I pray we will walk with confidence, knowing we will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Not only will we wait for the light of Christ to overcome the darkness, but as believers, we will embody the light. We will carry it with us like a beacon of hope in this dark world.

We will not give in to despair or fatalism, but we will seek out the hidden pearls of God’s favor and fashion them into a thing of beauty. We will wear them like a breastplate, and carry them like a shield, we will guard our hearts and adorn our heads with their bounty.

Let us be the ones who stand in faith, never turning or hiding from the dark places, but rather shining God’s light there, seeking the pearls of justice and freedom and redemption and grace. Let us give thanks for this bounty, for pockets of light breaking through darkness, and for precious jewels found hidden in the deep.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends.

……………………

How will you bring light into someone else’s darkness this holiday season?

To all the hardy women

mothers day flowers via kimberlyanncoyle.com

Over the past few days, I have re-evaluated my claim that I have a high tolerance for pain. I re-evaluated my inability to empathize with sick kin-folk (namely, my hubs) unless I experience the same illness, re-evaluated what it would be like to live with a chronic illness, and my views on how I approach life in general.

In a fit of craziness after my trip to the Urgent Care for a raging case of strep throat, I stopped by the store and bought a host of bizarre food items, including white bread and bacon. My sister-in-law emailed me to say it’s a good thing our health-nut Mother-in-law didn’t know about it, because strep or no strep, she would attempt an intervention. True, but I know when I can finally swallow that bacon, it will totally be worth it.

I also created an elaborate overnight pill taking scheme which left me with several pills still sitting on the bedside table by morning. I feel fairly certain I was supposed to take them. I’m so confused, and I’m not sure if I’m over or under medicating. More troubling than potential liver damage, is the fact that my house is a wreck, and I’ve accomplished absolutely nothing for four days.

I finally passed the point where I repeatedly wished for death, when I got up for the fourth time to take medication last night. I sat in the bathroom at one a.m., and I thought of all the mothers across the ages who suffered without access to pain medicine or antibiotics. We come from a hardy stock of women, don’t we? Somewhere along the way, the hardiness wore off, at least with me.

While I lay down and out on the sofa, I couldn’t shake this nagging sense of guilt. As if I really should be up and bustling about the house, or at the very least yelling at someone to do it for me. Without much of a voice and no strength to follow through, I watched the mess pile up in every room. Socks, books, slim yogurt tube wrappers, and drinking glasses that mysteriously multiplied in the dark.

It’s amazing what a few days on a sofa will teach you. One, the dog smells weird up close. Two, the kids truly would turn into hoarders and crazy pack-ratty people without my influence. Three, my husband is a champ at playing both mom and dad. And four, the next time he thinks he’s dying from strep-throat, don’t hide in the bathroom and count to five before coming to check on him.

Most importantly, I remembered how many women suffer from chronic or life-threatening illnesses, or care for someone who does. They are heroes, giants among us mere mortals. If you find yourself on the end of a big question mark with regard to your health, if you sit up and face the day and do what you can in spite of how you feel without an ounce of guilt, if you take your medication and walk around in a haze and still manage to live with empathy and a quiet will to pursue life, can I applaud you, today? I tip my hat to you, friend.

Here’s to the hardy women, the women who allow us to stand on their shoulders as they bear the weight of the sighing world.

A house, a love story.

house love via kimberlyanncoyle.com

With this polar vortex I call the North East, I’m discovering once again why we never see real live people outside of vehicles or over-heated buildings in the winter. I’m not sure I remember what my neighbors look like, as we’re all huddled inside our homes trying to stay warm. As I sat on the sofa today, I could hear sheets of ice slipping off the roof and cracking on the back deck. The house is sighing and shifting her weight under the lukewarm sun. She’s settling in.

I feel like we’re settling in too. I rearranged the family room furniture to fit just so. I dug out the photos of my husband’s grandmother, walking towards the camera, hand in hand with her young husband on an urban Philadelphia street. I light the candles at night and I let them burn, burn, burn their way into my memory. This is what home smells like. These are the people who smile on me here. This is my table, my comfy throw, my stack of magazines. This is where you sit, and I sit there. The cushions conform to our shape. This is the shape of us.

Man, I love the rhythms of our life. I love the washing machine humming down the hall, and the way my girl squirms when I wake her with a “Guten Morgen, Liebling.” She hates that, but I know she’ll remember it fondly, someday. I love the glow of her bedroom lamp slipping through the cracks in her door, the boy snuggled in bed with the man watching whatever it is boys watch together. I almost love the Lego set strewn across my dining room table. Almost. I love neat and tidy more. I love the kettle and the way I sometimes smile over a particularly well-brewed cup. No one sees my smile but the few pictures hanging on the wall, and they smile right back at me.

I love the way she makes the piano sing, the way it doesn’t know what to do when I finger its keys. I could write a love song to my slow cooker, she of great patience and long-suffering, who has saved more cuts of meat than I can say. Things I also love: The pup waiting patiently at the back door, morning, noon and night. The thump and groan of the heater as it wakes up the house at 5am. The light shifting from one side of the house to the other over the course of the day. The way we’re shaping this house and it’s shaping us.

It’s a love story, and we’re writing it.