The power of the Sugar Cookie…again.

This will be the third time I have posted this article. The repeated ritual of making cookies each Christmas season brings all these thoughts back to mind. I love the ritual, and I love that my children enjoy the ritual. Funny how something as simple as a cookie can carry so many memories, for each of us.

My mother was able to make a home come alive in the holidays; the decorations were all well thought out and brought a sense of elegance and delight. Our meals were lavish at Thanksgiving and Christmas and we lingered over them. We learned conversation and story and the joy of being a large family. We learned that the seasons stood out and were different.

Sometimes, though, it was the more simple things that brought everything to life. Like sugar cookies.

Here are my thoughts last year, continuing to try to stir us to thinking about Advent as it will begin in just a week. Hoping these thoughts will help to inspire us to do something to make this Christmas, this Advent, stand out. Also aware that as we move through these seasons there is that ache for those who are not whole in our midst. For minds which no longer take in the wonder around us, or for those who have passed away. Balancing that ache with the wonder of the season can be difficult…sometimes, though, the simple things that we do to make the season stand out will provide comfort and delight when we need it most.

The Power of the Sugar Cookie.

The box arrived yesterday, stacked with a few boxes from Amazon. This box was different, though, and it stood out. The address was hand-written, and the contents were able to evoke memories and emotions, a power the other boxes could not muster.

Even Chip the dog noticed. He kept walking over and sniffing the box, waiting for me to take it upstairs and open to see what was inside.

Little tiny stars that brought back so many memories. This year my dad, with the help of a long-time family friend who stays with mom during the day sometimes, sent out mom’s famous Christmas cookies. The recipe actually goes back to her mom, and possibly beyond that, although I’m not sure. Grandma was a great cook, and Christmas was filled with cookies and candies and fudge and divinity and, yes fruit cake. No, you are not allowed to make fruit cake jokes around me. Her fruitcake was made painstakingly…cutting each candied fruit to the same size and spending a full day in the kitchen working away. The result was a cake that even as a kid I enjoyed, but especially with a special warm lemon sauce poured over.

This year, though, it’s the cookies that bring back the memories. These do not quite compare to the cookies of my childhood, but they still carry in their little flour and sugar forms all the memories of Christmas. Christmas was not Christmas without the sugar cookies. We made hundreds. Literally. I mean, hundreds….500, 600, 700 cookies. We would watch them be made, help decorate with icing and red hots and sprinkles, then load them all up on plates with Saran Wrap and walk the neighborhood, delivering these cookies to all the neighbors. And the teachers. And the Sunday School teachers. And friends. And then we would munch on them happily for days.

It has been a lifetime, it seems, since we made those cookies. Dad has pictures somewhere, lots of pictures, of the kitchen filled with cookies.

Now, a little box came and let me know that it’s Christmas time.

christmascookie1

The cookies are not quite the same. They still taste great, but the decorations are simple when they used to be detailed. The activity was more of a distraction to keep a mind occupied that tends to be overwhelmed by how much it cannot figure out…constantly questioning and being frustrated. Still, there was a hesitation when I opened the box, a moment of not wanting to eat these cookies, because, well…what if they are the last ones?

I’m wired that way. I have books from favorite authors where I refuse to read the last chapter because I always want there to be something I have not read from them. I admit, though, it would be pretty silly to leave a sugar cookie uneaten, and I’m not sure I have that much discipline anyway.

Mom’s mind is a little more gone than it was last year. It is a little more difficult to keep her on the phone when I call and I feel the distance acutely this time of year. Mom used to always tell me that the house seemed to love Christmas time, that it came alive as we decorated and brought that wonder in that only belongs to this time of year. She made Christmas a magical time, a time of excitement and wonder and delicious tastes as well sounds and sights. All of these efforts were not wasted, and now at 42 a little sugar cookie can evoke a whole avalanche of memories and feelings and emotions.

So, as I get flustered trying to get it “all” done this season, this little box of cookies stopped me. I’ve got laundry that needs to be folded and dishes that need to be done, and floors that need to be mopped. I have a lot of ‘duties’ to do….but there will be sugar cookies made this weekend. A lot of them. Steve does a great job of getting the house decorated and pulling out all the stockings and candles and garlands and lights. The house twinkles with a special kind of wonder, and in the midst of a world that is so full of sorrow and fear and tragedy…I hope memories are being made for my kids.

More than that, though, I hope that a foundation of wonder is being formed. That is part of the heritage of my mom. There is an importance to the wonder and to the beauty. It is not merely decoration. It is a statement that these things matter and that it is important to feed our souls with beauty…with music and with images…and even with sugar cookies sometimes.

Thanks, Mom and Dad….

Grandmadriveway

Levity, Laughter and Love

Whew. I opened my computer today and was greeted with powerful news. News of parents praying with fervor for terribly sick children. News of missing children. News of murders and fear and stress…

 

Powerful news.

 

It can take our breath away. It can cause our souls to be downcast. Beyond downcast. To not be able to breathe.

 

Thanksgiving falling in the midst of all of this?

 

Whew.

 

I leave tonight to go back to New Mexico to spend Thanksgiving with my Dad, going through some of my mother’s things. She will be there, and yet she is not there. Such a limbo this Dementia places upon us.

 

Still, 14 of us will gather for Thanksgiving and I know that we will laugh and we will shout and we will eat, and it will be good. Then we will look through things and remember so many memories of laughter and of good, and of trial as well.

“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.” – Tolkien

 

The laughter is all the stronger, and more healing, when there is mourning mixed. I know this to be true.

This morning I stumbled upon a couple things which brought some light, and some levity, to the powerful news. It made me realize how much I needed some levity, and maybe others do as well. I’m sure most of you will catch this video elsewhere, but I love it and want it here as well.

 

Laughter. I am so thankful for laughter. And music. Books, as well. Coloring books even.

 

Thanksgiving….gratitude for so many things. Even in the midst of peril and darkness, great gratitude for laughter and love.

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. – Colossians 3:15-17

Holding The Beautiful in the Midst of the Terrible

She had done this just the other day; falling out of bed only to roll under the bed and sleep the rest of the night there. I heard her moaning a bit, dreaming, so I gently pulled her out from under the bed and brought her in to my bed.

IMG_0534.jpg

It was time to get up. Time to begin another day, focused on homeschool and laundry and cooking. Time to wake and see what conversations were taking place on FB, time to listen and hear more of the state of our world.

 

I didn’t.

 

I actually didn’t have much of a choice: as I went to lay her in the bed she wrapped her arms around my neck, clasping her hands. She did not let go. I lay there, firmly grasped by the hands of a four year old.

 

The innocent, trusting and loving arms of a child.

 

And I thought about our news. I thought about the terrors all around. I thought about Syrian mothers and wondered if they lay by their child, firmly in their grasp, and smelled their hair. If they just waited and listened to the breathing, feeling that little one beside them.

 

I am sure their hair does not smell like strawberries, and their embrace is more determined because there is so much to fear.

 

I wondered about the mother near us who had her daughter, just a little older than mine, killed at a football game. One moment she was there and cheering on her brothers, and within moments she was gone.

 

I didn’t move. I inhaled the fragrance of this innocent little one, and swallowed down the fear which is so near. I thought of our sermons lately on the book of Ruth, especially this:

May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.   – Ruth 2:21b

I wondered about the refugees and I wondered about so many who face immeasurable fear. Do they find the God of Israel to give them refuge? Through servants like Boaz? Like us?

quote-here-is-the-world-beautiful-and-terrible-things-will-happen-don-t-be-afraid-frederick-buechner-34-91-86

I found it interesting when I was looking at images with the above quote that none of them showed the terrible things. The quote was written across beaches and sunsets, pictures of stars and Northern Lights, in a variety of pleasing fonts.

 

Maybe it needs to be written across images of terror, because the encouragement to not be afraid rarely comes when things are beautiful.

 

Or, maybe….

 

Maybe in those moments when things truly are beautiful – like being held in the embrace of a child while the rain falls outside and all is quiet – reminds us of the starkness of terror. The sun still rose in a sunrise in Paris Saturday morning. There was still beauty, but it was all the more fragile because of the horrors.

 

I know, I am rambling. I have read several posts this morning from others sorting through these things as well. I am one of many. All of us. Trying to sort through our lives in seeming disparity from evil that is rampant. Still attempting to get the laundry done and cook dinner, teach the children and sing songs while things seem to be falling apart.

 

There is a fine line between discernment and fear. I do not want to let evil near my children. I do not want to turn away those who are without hope and who we can help. I do not want to tell my children about the terrors that exist across the ocean, across the country. Right next to their summer camp…where the little girl was killed just a few days ago.

 

The thing I am beginning to settle more and more with is this: we simply fall apart when we give ourselves completely over to fear. There are still beautiful things. There is still good. And we have been called to not be afraid.

 

Called by One Who is able. Able to be our refuge, or use us to be another’s refuge. We…I…so need the beautiful to give me strength to face the fearful and terrible.

 

Like little children sleeping under their beds and holding on in embraces with locked hands and innocent hearts. Like the sound of the rain, or the taste of chocolate.

 

Like the realization that God came here to this mess. And it matters. I wish His justice and His refuge was more immediate and clear…but I trust that one day it will be. There is strength in that, strength to face the evil and say no, strength to comfort the refugee and the wounded. Strength to embrace the beautiful even when there are terrible things around.

 

 

 

Happy Birthday, Steven!!!

These birthdays keep sneaking up and reminding me how little I have written lately. They are good rhythm-keepers of my year. 
This time it is the husband’s birthday. He is knee-deep in paperwork and responsibilities at work, so the day itself won’t be much of a celebration. The party will have to wait a few days, but I know the kids are eager to celebrate Dad. They know that they are fortunate: they have a Dad who loves them generously and well. A Dad who is playful and creative, but also who expects the best from them. 

  

 
A Dad willing to go on adventures. Willing to listen to what is important to us, and pay attention. 

  

More than that, a husband who is patient and compassionate. Who is willing to care well for all of us, taking on my parents as his own. That is worth celebrating. 

 
Happy Birthday, to the one who brings it all together for our family. The one who provides for us, who laughs with us and challenges us to be better.

   
Happy Birthday to the one who has made me a better person. Even though I still haven’t conquered the laundry. 

 
We love you and can’t wait to celebrate with you!!!

The Interruption of the Rhythm.

It is a perfectly Fall day here in Tennessee. Light mist, a bit foggy, the colors in the trees beginning to change. A good Sunday morning, part of the rhythm of the year taking part in the rhythm of the week as I prepare to go worship with others. Comfortable and routine.

And in the midst of this I keep thinking of a question.

Are you a Christian?

Roseburg.

Many more questions were asked on my FaceBook feed this week, and in the news. Questions and battle about gun control, rights. Fear and pride. Clashing and yelling and debating. Lots of questions, but mostly noise.

The little stories sneaking past the noise, telling of what really happened. Of great courage of Chris Mintz.

Then the stories of the gunman asking people if they were Christian, and announcing they would meet God in seconds.

And that is where the noise ended for me.

Here is the staggering thing. After having shot the first person who stood when he asked if they were Christians, the next person stood up.

There, facing someone with completely evil intent, who now has made his motivation even clearer, the next person stood. How easy it would be to remain sitting? How easy would it be to not just be embarrassed of being a Christian…but to be deadly afraid of what the claim would mean?

The reality that believing in Jesus Christ was such a deep truth that they simply could not deny Him.

We have read stories through history of others who have done this, and it is always amazing. The reality, though, of this happening here in our comfort and in the setting of a college room in a rural, beautiful Oregon town…that brought me up short.

If Christianity is just myth, just nonsense, just some man-made religion used to punish and control, then why on earth would the next person stand? Because they are so conditioned to think that what they believe is true?

What about the next person? They had more time to think. Two people die before them. Wouldn’t fear being screaming louder than conditioning?

What if God is more? What if in that moment the truth of their belief settled so deeply in their soul that they had the courage to stand, knowing the outcome? I know some of my friends will say they were simply foolish and it is tragic and sad. Yet, I find something else.

I sit here  staggered at the reality of my faith. The reality of my God. The routine and the rhythm of a perfectly Fall Sunday, preparing to go worship, is completely undone. Nuances are added to each preparation, and the frailty of everything seems more pronounced.

The reality of the Gospel, the reality of Jesus, sinks more deeply into my bones. The witness of these who continued to stand, knowing the outcome, stops me in my comfortable routine. The name I so flippantly toss about, Christian, has taken a deeper tone this week. My preparations as I head to church this morning are more somber, more aware of the reality of evil along with the reality of Gospel.

Nate-The-Great is 12!

 

 

Every year I am surprised. Another year has passed. I look through the pictures of the last year, and beyond, and think of how much my children change in the passing of days.

 

Today is the Creative One’s birthday. Nate-the-Great. 12. Unbelievable. Sometimes we are struck that it can’t be ‘just’ 12 because you seem so much older, and other times we are struck by the reality that you are already 12.  You are this mix of innocence and maturity, of goofiness and deep thoughts.

11053613_10153177817700419_8546780443886300597_n

Creative. You amaze us with the endless making of worlds on Minecraft…of games and ideas and servers and administration and dialog. You are constantly creating. Beyond Minecraft into the real world with pictures and colors and games and ideas. From your purple hair to laughter, you make the world brighter and funnier and deeper, just by being yourself.

 

IMG_2263

 

IMG_0340

zach6

Natebday

 

I love the fact that you are willing to try new things, and you want the freedom to try them your way. You want to jump in by yourself. I’ll never forget the first Nashville Children’s Theater camp you attended, when I dropped you off and you just jumped into the game they were playing. You didn’t know anyone, it was all new, and you just went for it. I never could have done that at your age.

1506909_10153396378375419_8248101735817277599_n

 

You are growing up, though. The goofiness and the innocence is tempered with a maturity that is beginning to show. You think things through and you want to know the why and the what if. You keep Dad and I on our toes as we have to think through our reasons for groundings and rules and life. Keep questioning, it is good for all of us.

10473369_10152755552995419_2534875912076575030_n

 

I am so thankful for you, Nate-the-Great. I cannot wait to see what the next year holds. To see how your faith deepens and how your creativity grows.I cannot wait to see your confidence grow as you find more and more who you are. You continue to delight us, year after year, and I know this year will be even better. Keep bringing laughter and goofiness and games, along with the questions and the deep thoughts. Keep being you. You are loved.

11921889_10153586941875419_2042933197812272186_o

10402609_10152565732810419_982025476582601673_n

IMG_0370

12034174_10153629898095419_2780705936815422239_o

 

Happy Birthday, Nate!

Five Words I Love To Hear: Mom! Please, Don’t Read Anymore!

20090_10153344120515419_696579750904083534_n (1)

 

Each night for the last couple months I have been met by this exclamation from my youngest boy.

 

The lights are dimmed, he is in his bed and the Littlest Princess (I’m still settling on their nicknames for this blog) is in some degree of resting. Prayers are done and we have read one chapter out loud from our latest book.

 

We have been taking our time, savoring George MacDonald’s books. About Princesses. Yes, reading my boy books about princesses.

 

But these are George MacDonald books about princesses.

 

 

The Princess and the Goblin.

The Princess and Curdie.

 

The Lost Princess (or The Wise Woman: A Parable)

 

Books which greet us with comments like these:

“It was foolish indeed – thus to run farther and farther from all who could help her, as if she had been seeking a fit spot for the goblin creature to eat her in at his leisure; but that is the way fear serves us: it always sides with the thing we are afraid of.”

 

“There is this difference between the growth of some human beings and that of others: in the one case it is a continuous dying, in the other a continuous resurrection.”

 

“What honest boy would pride himself on not picking pockets ? A thief who was trying to reform would. To be conceited of doing one’s duty is then a sign of how little one does it, and how little one sees what a contemptible thing it is not to do it. Could any but a low creature be conceited of not being contemptible? Until our duty becomes to us common as breathing, we are poor creatures.”

 

These are books which carry weight, and I have been happy to read slowly. The other night, though, I thought we might read two or three chapters so we could finish the book that night. The Youngest Boy would have none of that.

 

I get carried away reading books. Looking up I will find that I have read for two hours when I only meant to take a few minutes to read. This boy, though…he has restraint.

 

Stop reading.

 

Savor what we have.

 

He wanted me to stop so the book would last longer, so we would have more nights to think about Rosamond or Curdie or all the other cast of characters. He asked last night if there were any more after this…I told him there is this little one called At The Back of the North Wind.

 

There will be plenty of time to be swept away by stories and read for hours….there is something priceless about a 9 year old being aware that we need to savor the moment. He knows there will come a time when we have read all the MacDonald books, and he wants to hold that off as long as possible.

 

There is wonder, and sometimes we just glance and acknowledge what should make us stop in our tracks. The absolute-out-of-control laughter of children. Sunsets which turn the sky to fire and make our hearts beat faster. The smell of honeysuckle.

 

The reality of a God who creates all these things, and who cares for all of us. And for me. And for you.

 

Wonder. On a Monday it may feel far away….but think about the last time you took something in just a piece at a time to make it last. Today, take in just a piece…

 

Peace.

 

Grace.

 

Mercy.

 

Love.

 

Forgiveness.

 
Resurrection.

 

Creativity.

 

Don’t rush. Show the restraint of a 9 year old.

 

20090_10153344120515419_696579750904083534_n (1)