December 2017: What I’m Into

December. proper noun. The only month of winter that’s worthwhile, let’s be real.

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Ah, December.

Despite the below-zero temperatures rearing their ugly heads earlier than normal this year, and the cold, and a mild Grinchiness at the beginning of the month, I really did enjoy December.

Maybe it’s that Advent really resonated with me. I couldn’t leap straight into the festivity. I needed to warm up with waiting, and longing, and watching. I needed to contemplate the contrast of the world’s dark and Christ’s light, of pain and hope, of sin and salvation. Instead of Santa and reindeer, the deep magic older than time itself, as Aslan calls it, beckoned.

I felt deep appreciation for my church in this season, for the Anglican readings and candle lightings and the poetry of the prayers. My own devotions were more intentional, too. It all made me feel prepared (well, as prepared as is actually possible) for the celebration that, suddenly, was upon us on December 25.

The month ended in a flurry of family and activity and long car rides, leaving me drinking the Christmas season down to the dregs now that things have quieted. For mere days more, the stars still hang, the tree is still lit, the Christmas music still plays, and I am still attempting to comprehend the mystery of the Incarnation. It’s going to take more than 12 days. More than a lifetime, in fact.

A big ol’ 2017 reflection is on its way. In the meantime, before the 12 days of Christmas are over and I officially move on from the season of good cheer, here’s what I loved in December.

Reading

A Rule Against Murder – Louise Penny. I adore the Inspector Gamache series. This is another solid installment that did not disappoint. The setting of this book, a lakeside lodge in the Quebec wilderness, is as magical as a murder scene can be.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate – Jacqueline Kelly. Darwin is gaining popularity, the telephone is spreading to rural Texas, and Callie Vee is an intrepid tomboy who stumbles into the world of natural science. This book had so much to love, including a strong and sassy lead character, a vivid picture of turn-of-the-century Texas, and an exploration of science and family and adventure.

Watch for the Light. These readings for Advent and Christmas by authors like C.S. Lewis, Deitrich Bonhoeffer, and Kathleen Norris guided my thoughts in this most-beloved season. I absolutely plan to buy the Lent version for later in the year.

Of Mess and Moxie – Jen Hatmaker. True confessions: I read all the funny chapters of this before wrapping it up for someone else. I can’t speak for the more serious pieces of this, but her humor is true to form!

 

Listening

Advent and Christmas playlists. Songs on repeat this year included:

  • Follow the Shepherd Home by Mindy Smith
  • May You Find a Light by Josh Garrels
  • My All in Thee by Young Oceans
  • You’re Here by Francesca Battistelli
  • A Cradle in Bethlehem by Sara Groves
  • Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song) by Amy Grant

 

Watching

The Last Jedi. While I would never claim to be a rabid Star Wars fan, I do accompany my siblings to the movies and enjoy the franchise well. After this movie, though, I discovered that I am capable of having some strong opinions about these films. This latest movie was enjoyable to watch, and seemed to be filmed well. It also busted all the fan theories, which I’m normally in support of. But there were too many weird things that weren’t explained well. What was up with Leia’s weird space walk? Why didn’t the stand-in Rebel commander just tell everyone what she was doing? Why did Rey believe she could save Kylo after so few conversations?

The Young Victoria. This story explores how Queen Victoria comes to power and the beginning of her relationship with her husband Albert. I enjoyed this movie a lot. Emily Blunt is rarely disappoints, and the same actor who plays Wickham in Pride and Prejudice plays Albert – a delightful surprise! However, I wanted something that explored Victoria’s thoughts and feelings with a little more depth – some of her decisions seemed too speedy or stubborn, and a little more information could have helped that pacing.

Victoria and Abdul. Another Victoria movie! This one focuses on the end of the queen’s reign and shows the little-known relationship between Queen Victoria and an Indian clerk named Abdul. Abdul is pulled from India for a ceremony, where he accidentally enchants the queen and becomes her “munshi,” or teacher and companion. Judi Dench is one formidable lady, and Abdul is disarmingly adorable, and together they make the story both tender and comedic.

The Crown. ‘Tis the season for dramas about British monarchs, apparently. I love this show so much, and I love that the second season is out, and I love that Adam will watch it with me.

Elf. Every year.

The Monuments Men. This is the only kind of war movie I will willingly watch, and I have wanted to watch it since it came out years ago. The best part of the film was how some of the character duos played off one another, but I did find the plot a bit lackluster. I also wish it were more historically accurate, so I’m planning to watch the documentary The Rape of Europa, which I watched years ago, to get my fix there.

 

Loving

Acure Organics Argan Oil. Thanks to drying medication and crazy cold air, my face got so dry this month that it started flaking. I added this under my face lotion both morning and night, and the flaking has ceased, hallelujah. I also haven’t broken out from it, which has happened when I’ve used face oils in the past.

Christmas treats. Caramel puffcorn (the recipe is on the back of the puffcorn bag – how handy) and Shannan Martin’s crack bark are my super easy go-to’s.

 

Doing

A million and one things.

Seeing NEEDTOBREATHE in concert! My brother and I attended their All the Feels acoustic concert at the State Theater. It was the perfect venue to see one of my bucket list concerts, and the band was freaking fantastically amazing. Especially when the turned off all the mics and did the final song and encore completely acoustic.

Seeing Ellie Holcomb in concert (the very next night)! ‘Twas apparently a weekend of bucket list concerts. Ellie’s voice is just as lovely in person, and she is completely enthusiastic and adorable. Case in point: she wore snow boots because she forgot to pack her other shoes, and she totally pulled it off. Since this was a small church sanctuary sort of gig, I got to meet her afterwards. She hugged everyone, and we talked about all of 10 seconds about being middle school English teachers (her prior gig). So basically, we’re best friends now.

 

 

 

Attending the European Christmas Market at Union Depot in St. Paul. My brothers and I met up with my parents for this event, which is honestly all about the food. If you like perogies, go.

Seeing A Christmas Carol at the Guthrie. The Advanced English classes at my school read this in December, and we brought some of them to watch an evening performance. Seeing how much they love the show – some of my 7th graders from last year came back again! – is always delightful.

Reading Dorothy Sayers’ Advent play He That Should Come. Anselm House, a Christian study group, held a reading of this play, which was originally broadcast as a radio drama. It was way more comedic than I expected while still being reflective, and I absolutely want to read her plays for other seasons. As a bonus, Adam happened to fly into the state hours before the event. We’ve loved sharing reading nights like this in the past, so it was the perfect kick-off to his time in MN

Checking out oysters at Meritage with Adam. They are not my thing, but hey, I tried. At least we felt very French. (We also attempted to check out ice skating next to the Landmark Center, but they closed earlier than advertised on Google. Boo. Next time.)

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Attending the American Swedish Institute’s Winter Solstice celebration with Adam and his family. On the tour of the mansion, which was beautifully decorated for Christmas, I discovered traditional Advent stars and realized that I already had them hanging in my apartment. I just thought they were random Ikea decorations. I love them even more now.

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All the school Christmas things, from Secret Santas and potlucks and parties…and attempting to make kids learn things while all they can think about is break. And let’s be honest, all I could think about was break, too.

Christmas break! So many highlights:

  • Downhill skiing with Adam’s family
  • Candlelit Christmas Eve soup
  • Playing Settlers of Catan
  • Christmas cookie baking with Grandma, my sister, and friends
  • Snowmobiling around my grandparents’ yard
  • Eating a lot of dessert…
  • Relearning to cross-country ski
  • Hitting up W.A. Frost and a friend’s NYE party
  • Having Adam in Minnesota! For more than 3 days at a time!

 

Whew. No wonder I only read two books this month. Here’s to a grand finale to 2017 and a beautiful beginning to 2018.

Linking up with Leigh Kramer.

 

 

 

 

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Wait

Wait. verb. To continue in expectation; to be in readiness; to look forward to eagerly.

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For the past two weeks, I have been holly and jolly with the best of them. But today my holiday cheer is shaken.

I checked Facebook after work and stumbled upon grim updates from Aleppo. The news from CNN clarified the situation and the horror. Syria and its situation won’t leave my head.

I don’t understand.

I get to sit here, admiring my twinkling lights, chaperoning field trips to plays, and sending group texts between my siblings about Christmas gifts. On the other side of the world, people are running for their lives, ducking bombs, and sending tweets they believe may be their last.

I do a yoga video and feel the tension in my hips, simmer soup, hang laundry, and silently rage at God. Why is this happening? If he is God and he is love, what in the heck is he doing? Why is he allowing children to die, civilians to be used as human shields, and entire cities to be decimated?

This is one of those murky mysteries of faith I haven’t yet learned to navigate without stumbling. How does evil exist if God is all-powerful and good? Why does he allow atrocities to happen? Why do the intercessions of his faithful seem to fall on deaf ears?

I don’t have answers to those questions. Theology class notes and cliché Christian platitudes shrivel in the face of real humans flinching when bombs drop too close. I know we need to trust God. I know he redeems all things. I know he’s saved us from a fate worse than death. I know. But these questions, these Syrians’ faces, still throb in my heart. Those answers don’t seem like enough.

The contrast of Christmas cheer and utter tragedy seems sharpened tonight. Such quandaries feel wrong in this season. Or at least in the way our Western culture perceives it, with Santa and sleigh rides. Jingle bells aren’t mournful, no matter how you shake them.

But the more I ponder, the more I believe that Advent is exactly the season for asking why evil is in the world and what precisely God is doing about it. Advent is about waiting. In Advent, we wait for God to make himself known, for him to join us in the mess that is humanity.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel has been on repeat this evening as I muck around in questions. It’s long been one of my favorite Christmas carols, but it feels especially appropriate tonight. Israel is captive, waiting for release. They plead that God would ransom them from captivity. They beg that Emmanuel would free them from the depths of hell. They beg that their Lord would put death’s dark shadow to flight.

And, most miraculous of all, they try to rejoice while they wait. They believe that their Lord will be faithful. He will not abandon them. He will not ignore their groans of suffering. He will come.

I can only echo these sentiments tonight. Lord, bring release. Intercede. Free us. Come.

A weary world awaits you.

 

 

Goals: Christmas Edition

Goals. noun. The object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result.

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It’s time for another round of seasonal goals! This practice feels especially important to me during Advent. The season blitzes by every year, and if I don’t prioritize the things I want to do, they easily get forgotten. (Besides, my obnoxious goal-oriented personality doesn’t turn off, even during the holidays.)

Here’s how I’m hoping to celebrate this month:

  1. Finish Christmas shopping by the first week in December. (Because I think/stress way too much about this until I just get it done.)
  2. Attend a holiday concert.
  3. Host (or co-host) a Christmas party.
  4. Drive around to admire holiday decorations.
  5. Watch It’s a Wonderful Life.
  6. Bake Christmas cookies.
  7. Read an Advent devotional.
  8. Write at least one holiday card to someone I value.
  9. Pay for the coffee or food of the person in line behind me.
  10. Bring cookies to my neighbors.
  11. Give a gift to someone in need.
  12. Reflect on 2016 and set priorities for the new year.

My calendar is already full for December, but we’ll see what happens!

Curious about my goals for this fall and whether I succeeded? Here’s the update as the season ends.

  1. Go for a drive to admire the leaves – I took the scenic route down a street with beautiful trees. Close enough for my purposes.
  2. Run outside at least once/week (until it gets too cold) – Meh. I did a few times! But I was not consistent.
  3. Go apple picking…twice!
  4. then make caramel apples or apple cake. I made apple cake AND apple pan dowdy.
  5. Go to a farmer’s market – Did you know there’s a farmer’s market next to the Guthrie? I went there. It was cold.
  6. Go to a football game – I didn’t pay any attention at UNW’s homecoming game…but I was there.
  7. Read outside – I specifically went outside one day so I could meet this goal. Done.
  8. Finish one embroidered quote – Didn’t even start.
  9. Watch a documentary – Hamilton’s America is spectacular.
  10. Get into a (very loose) blogging schedule – Yes! The schedule may fall apart in December, but I lasted through the fall.

8/10 – not too shabby!

What are your goals for this holiday season?

 

Linking up with Nicole at Writes Like a Girl!

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Holes

Holes. noun. Empty spaces, where absence is felt.

Lee Morley via Flickr

Lee Morley via Flickr

Holiness has most often been revealed to me in the exquisite pun of the first syllable, in holes – in not enough help, in brokenness, mess.

– Anne Lamott

Every year, it bangs me over the head, how much I expect every moment of Advent to be glittery and Kodak-worthy. It never meets expectations.

Paper snowflakes and stockings hang from our walls, baby bulbs from our baby tree. The chalkboard whispers Christmas wishes. I wear all the plaid and play all the music. Presents are wrapped in kraft paper with care.

And underneath the twinkle lights, I’m still scared. I’m still lonely. I’m still broken.

I’m longing to know what my future holds when my concrete plans run out. The boy is too far away, and it looks like he will stay there for too long, and I’m too angsty about it. My control muscle keeps spasming, when the 7th graders won’t stop talking in class, and when the months ahead feel too uncertain, and when the student loan payments loom, and when I can’t patch my messes.

The world feels it too. Others have holes much deeper, more painful, than mine. While we light candles and hang ornaments, the hunger and abuse and terrorism and racism and violence remain. We flail in fear. We look for answers no one has. God’s people cry, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and there is silence.

It hurts.

This Advent, I pray that we would let it hurt. This season centers on the longing of a world not yet perfect. We are watching and waiting for the Lord, praying for his presence as we see our need. We will still have fear and loneliness and brokenness. But this Christmas, I pray those things won’t lead us to solitary panic, or desperation for Christmas Eve engagements, or cynicism.

Instead, in those holes of hurt and longing, may we seek the quiet presence of God with us.

When we can’t be merry because life is hard, may we admit it, and hear the holy words “Me, too.” When we struggle, wondering when the Prince of Peace will reign, may we pay attention for his presence. When we hurt, may we search for the Healer and Counselor, holding fast to the promise that Emmanuel shall come. May his presence, his holiness, his promises, fill the holes in our broken souls and our broken world.

Peace

Peace. Noun. According to Dictionary.com, “Cessation of or freedom from any strife or dissension.” Also the lyric to many a Christmas song.

Image via Pinterest

Image via Pinterest

I heard the bells on Christmas day, their old familiar carols play, And wild and sweet, the words repeat of peace on earth, good will to men.

It’s an old story, this telling of peace and love that rests over the world at Christmas. We’ve been singing it since the shepherds and angels on the first Noel, back when no one knew the words to Silent Night, the magic of Santa, the stunning, salvation-bringing life the tiny baby would live. And it’s a mind-blowing one. The God of the universe becomes a baby squalling in the Bethlehem night because he loves us so dang much. Wild and sweet, indeed. But after countless repetitions, the story is memorized, the miracle plasticized in nativity sets and masked in sparkly marketing. It’s hard to think of the manger, where God begins to dwell with us, with reverence and awe when the story is familiar and swept over by festivities and finals.

And in despair I bowed my head.”There is no peace on earth,” I said, “for hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.”

This doubting, restless heart so easily forgets the assurance of God with us. It’s ironic that this week, the crackdown before finals, is the week of peace in the Advent calendar. This is the week that sees me frantic and worried, my brow furrowed and my mind churning over the party I have yet to plan and the paper I have yet to write. I can count on one hand the assignments I have left to turn in, but my focus is crawling, my textbooks weightier than usual. Weariness sweeps over everything. I feel alone in weakness, in worry.
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: “God is not dead, nor doth he sleep; the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men.”

But. Peace is not peppermint-spiced. It’s not found in jingle bells and twinkly lights. It’s not warm fuzzies at orchestra-swelling praise songs. It’s not even watery eyes at sweet, sentimental Christmas messages.

Peace, real peace, is knowing that the King is here, that Jesus promises to take carry my worry, that God is good even when sleep is lacking and motivation is missing. Peace is knowing that ultimately God and good win. Even in darkness more consuming than December night, God is still at work and has sent his Light to shatter the black.

Right now, I’m not feeling an abundance of peace. I am ignoring the textbooks sprawled next to me and yearning to be done. My efforts to find peace involve stress eating and Pinterest perusing. Wrong failing and right prevailing are not the first topics on my mind.

And that’s okay. God can take it. He doesn’t need my triumphant joy, my Christmas cheer, my attempts to manufacture some candlelight stillness in my soul. His peace is not dependent on my emotional stability. He has faced problems so much bigger than my end-of-semester doldrums, and his offer of peace still lingers, wrapped in grace and love.

Maybe, even right now in this season of the semester, I’ll be brave enough to believe and accept it.
Till, ringing singing, on its way, the world revolved from night to day, a voice, a chime, a chant sublime of peace on earth, good will to men!