I was helping at my children’s school last Friday, when one of the first graders raced up to me, arms open wide, and gave me a hug. Then she thrust a piece of paper into my hands. “I LOVE YOU!” said the giant, red words with a picture of a smiling girl underneath.
“This is for me?” I asked, surprised.
Grinning, she nodded.
What compelled me to take my mother’s mystery houseplant, I don’t recall. Its smooth, reed-like fronds grew outward from a single, papery stalk in the shape of a fan. My mother kept it in a plastic pot – the kind in which you might bring home a tomato plant from a nursery. Nothing showy. And the plant wasn’t either. “Give it a little water once a week,” Mom said, forgetting what it was called. “It blooms once every year or so, but if you’re patient, the flowers are spectacular.”
With five kids fluttering in and out of our front door, clutter is definitely an issue at my house. In fact I couldn’t write that sentence without getting up to clear a coffee table and put away some books. Now, I feel compelled to fire up a load of laundry. Some of that may be the result of having just watched Netflix’s new series Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. I’d never read Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up or any other books by the bestselling author. But I do like a clean house.
When my husband and I became the parents of a little girl with special needs, we didn’t have time to read books about cerebral palsy, join a support group or seek resources to help us raise her. For one, we were too busy feeding, encouraging and taking care of our daughter, Ruth. For another, Dana and I both worked and were raising three other young children. Most of what we learned, we discovered on the fly simply by doing it. However, I have since stumbled upon several organizations and books that would have provided light for our journey.
Sometime ago, a thoughtful friend gave me a pad of paper with a Scripture verse printed on the bottom of each page. I love it. Each time I jot down a grocery list or add up my budget, I get a jolt of encouragement, such as, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” Matthew 5:7. And who doesn’t need more mercy? The only problem is, I hate throwing Scripture away.
Over the holidays, after nearly three years of living in our snug little saltbox, I felt a sudden urgency to buy drapes for three of the massive windows facing our back woods. Not only would they help retain heat in the cold, dark evenings and provide privacy from the squirrels and deer, they would make the battered old windows look better. The only problem was money.
“I wish I knew what had happened to Ruth’s doll,” I lamented to my children a week before Christmas. Ruth, our adopted daughter, had so loved the brown Bitty Baby I’d bought when she’d arrived in Maine from a Ugandan children’s home, Welcome Home Ministries Africa. At the time, Ruth was 18 months old and couldn’t sit up, feed herself or speak. Having been abandoned at birth, she was staying in Topsham with friends, who’d volunteered to take care of her while she received therapy for cerebral palsy.
In just a few days, an estimated 2 billion people in 160 countries – including 90 percent of all Americans – will pause to celebrate what they consider the most important holiday of the year: Christmas. Yet, as wars rage and refugees flee, as stocks tumble and nations crumble, as glaciers melt and protesters march in city streets, what hope is there that the message of Christmas, a baby born to bring peace to the earth, is still relevant? Peace? What peace? You might ask. And does anyone still believe in a literal Jesus, anyway? Musician and preacher Ben Pierce tackles this question in his new book, Jesus in the Secular World (Steiger Press, 2018).
Last week, I questioned what people who don’t observe Christ’s birth are celebrating at Christmas. It’s no secret that we live in a largely secular culture. Here in Maine, we have among the lowest church attendance in the nation, with a mere 20 percent of folks plonking down on a pew each Sunday. So it stands to reason that some 80 percent of you might be wondering what exactly Christians are celebrating this time of year. I thought it’d be fun to consult the writers of our best-loved Christmas carols. No, not John Lennon, who hoped we’d have fun and forget our fears, but those early bastions of faith who penned lyrics based on Scripture. So this is Christmas:
“What do people who aren’t religious celebrate at Christmas?” a dear friend’s daughter recently asked her – or something along those lines. “Well, some people celebrate a religious Christmas and some people celebrate a secular Christmas,” she explained, describing a friend who celebrates the season by hosting friends and giving to others even though she doesn’t recognize the spiritual significance of the holiday.
How do we shine the light of Christ at Christmas? Tucked inside the familiar Bible story about the birth of Jesus are four key activities to help you celebrate Christ and share His light during Advent.
Week 1: Welcome the Weary (Luke 2:1-7)
Poor Mary. Tired and pregnant, she arrived in Joseph’s hometown after a long journey to find no welcome. There were no hotels at the time of Christ’s birth. No Holiday Inn. No Motel 6. Instead, travelers knocked on doors until someone let them in. But because all the houses in Bethlehem were full, Mary and Joseph likely found shelter in a cave used for animals. And in that dark and dirty dwelling, Mary welcomed her first-born son: Jesus, whose name means “God is salvation.”
My mother’s journals sat in a box in my garage. They covered 40 years – from soon after she chose to follow Jesus, on our Oregon farm, to living in Israel, Russia and Azerbaijan, working as a linguist and Bible translator. And before she died, she’d asked me to destroy them. “But Mom,” I’d protested, driving her home from one of her many doctor’s appointments during her final months with cancer. “Those are the stories of your life. They are a treasure.”
Crisscrossing strands of white lights dangled from the 200-year-old rafters of my friend Jenny’s barn. In one corner, pinecone angel ornaments hung from a fresh-cut tree. A picnic table at the end of the room held paper cups of markers and scissors, ready for the children and parents who squashed up the rain-soaked hillside last weekend to celebrate the launch of my first children’s picture book, The Christmas Cradle. After nearly two decades of spending much of my free time alone, clacking computer keys in the fragile hope that what I wrote would someday be published, last week’s party was a true delight.
There’s an election next week. But I find it hard to concentrate on who’s running for what with the tragedy in Pittsburgh where eleven people were gunned down in an anti-Semitic attack on a synagogue. With masses of desperate people crowding our southern border, hoping for a better life. With the New York Times’s photos of starving Yemeni children. There’s trouble in this world of ours, where hate seeks its own way again and again and again.
I turned the page in the biography I was reading to my children about the life of Amy Carmichael, an Irish missionary to India in the early 1900s, when I came across a scene that typified what angers so many about the history of Christian missions: a procession of Indian servants carrying a group of British ministers and their wives on sedan chairs. For each missionary (other than Carmichael, who rode horseback), it took eight men to carry each chair.
The first surprise about our rescue puppy was that she wasn’t a puppy. “She’s about nine months old, nearly full grown,” the vet said last month, prying apart the jaws of the pup we’d named Fable. “She has all her adult teeth.”
“I knew it!” I said to my husband, Dana, when he drove her home with the news. Ever since we’d brought Fable home at the beginning of September, her small feet and delicate, lean build had made me suspect that the ‘three months old’ description on the animal adoption site where we’d found her profile was wrong.
Like many, I was shocked last week when a painting “Girl With Balloon” by the British street artist Banksy sold for a record $1.4 million at Sotheby’s auction house only to instantly self-destruct. Like many, I’d never heard of the enigmatic artist before his stunt flashed across the world’s news feeds, showing a painting of a girl with a heart shaped balloon slipping through the bottom of its frame and being destroyed by a shredder as a wealthy, art-loving audience looked on.
I laughed. Then I contemplated what it means to live in a world that often values paint and paper more than people, the temporal more than the timeless.
Early this past summer, between the rows of kale and marigolds in my make-do garden, I planted four leafy-green Brussel sprouts. Tomatoes I knew. Cucumbers and green beans and zucchini too. I’d never grown Brussel sprouts, but the thought of harvesting my own organic, farm-to-table mini cruciferous cabbages was too delectable to resist. So I scooped four shallow holes in my loamy soil, packed it around the promising shoots and waited to see what grew.
All summer I watered and weeded—sometimes too much, sometimes too little. The shiny red orbs of cherry tomatoes ripened first, followed by prickly-skinned cucumbers. Heavy leaves grew wide from the now thick shoots of the Brussel sprouts.
As a member of a small, rural Maine church, I often wonder how to make our congregation more relevant to our community. For the people who walk through our doors on Sunday morning, we are a friendly, encouraging bunch – so much so that the coffee hour often eclipses...
With one lap to go, my child fell behind his teammates running around the soccer field. From the look on his face, I knew something was wrong. Not something as simple as a stitch in the side or a sore ankle, but a wound that burned far deeper.
As soon as practice was over, he followed me to our truck. “I don’t think I want to play soccer anymore,” he confided, head hanging.
“You don’t?” I asked. “Was it hard today?”