To Live In Joy

This has been a really awful few days. The shooting in Ottawa hit me just like a sucker punch to the gut. Ottawa is the closest city to my hometown (yes, we were closer to a Canadian city than a US. REALLY rural, and REALLY far north in NY State); we are very familiar with it. It’s a beautiful, warm, welcoming city, and to think of such a horror being perpetuated in it was awful and personal.

The next day, I found out that the local college in my hometown – the school I attended for my freshman year before transferring to the state university the next town over – had to shut down because of threats on social media. MY town. MY school. Once again, the fury I felt was personal as well as abstract.

Today is the third anniversary of my grandmother’s death. And rather than continue to dwell on the things that make me angry, things I cannot change or stop directly, I’m going to do what Grandma would have done, and share some things that bring light, laughter, and hope to the world.

I’m certain I’ve posted this video before. Kurt Browning is one of my all-time favorite skaters – he is one of the greats – and this is a routine that never fails to brighten my day, no matter how bad it gets.

This song makes me cry. Every time. But they are good tears, tears of love for and pride in my grandparents and all those who choose joy instead of bitterness in the hardships of life.

Speaking of Patty Griffin … I love this song, too.

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I snapped this with my phone last weekend on our mountain hike. Glorious beauty in the dying of the year.

Not a picture or video, but – we have started reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to the kids before bed (Carl reads, I sit and quilt and surreptitiously watch their faces). They weren’t too sure about it at first, but last night the four children had supper with the Beavers, and neither girl wanted to close the book after that. They’re hooked.

“I heard the universe as an oratorio sung by a master choir of stars, accompanied by the orchestra of the planets and the percussion of satellites and moons. The aria they performed was a song to break the heart, full of tragic dissonance and deferred hope, and yet somewhere beneath it all was a piercing refrain of glory, glory, glory. And I sensed that not only the grand movements of the cosmos, but everything that had happened in my life, was a part of that song. Even the hurts that seemed most senseless, the mistakes I would have done anything to erase–nothing could make those things good, but good could still come out of them all the same, and in the end the oratorio would be no less beautiful for it.” -RJ Anderson, Ultraviolet

I love this quote.

In really, really good news from this week (well, the tail end of last week), my dear friend A.M. Offenwanger published her first book! It is a delightful read. The link leads to the Smashwords page, but you can get it through Amazon or Kobo as well, or as a print version through Createspace.

One final song:

There are some of my happy things! I hope that, whether you are having a wonderful week or a dreadful one, that at least one item in this post has brought a smile to your face.

Lord, Have Mercy

Saw a snide comment today on Twitter about how “all people who aren’t talking about Ferguson are contributing to the problem” and it enraged me. Enraged me to the point that I am having to do something I expressly don’t want to do, which is engage on social media about this.

There is a lot of horrible stuff going on the world right now. Ferguson, Irag, Ukraine, two Amish girls kidnapped from my old stomping grounds (thankfully they are now back home with their parents, but the media is still exploiting their story for all it’s worth), a group of kids and adults, short-term missionaries from the North Shore here brutally attacked on their way to the airport after completing a week of working overseas, atrocities still committed regularly in Nigeria …

It’s horrible. The world presses in heavily. And I don’t see that Twittering about it is going to make it any better.

If it comforts you to express your thoughts and emotions in 140 characters, by all means, do so. I can’t. I have tried to do so in the past, and it leaves me feeling more frustrated and helpless than before.

Instead, I am praying. Lord, have mercy. It’s a lot less than 140 characters, but it’s going straight to the throne of grace instead of getting lost in a sea of banality and empty outrage on the internet. Lord, have mercy.

I am acting. I am sharing food from our garden with our neighbors. I am reading to my children and giving them hugs. I am speaking words of encouragement and love to those I see.

I am living. Living as though life is worth something. Living with joy, because that is so much more powerful than shouting in anger.

I am creating. Making art, making music, writing stories. Because the act of creation trumps acts of destruction any day of the week.

Hatred doesn’t fix hatred. Darkness cannot defeat darkness. Only light can defeat the darkness. And for me, personally, spouting off on Twitter or Facebook is not contributing to the light in this world.

So, angry person on Twitter criticizing people you don’t even know, sweeping everyone under one comprehensive judgement: I understand, because there have been times when I have felt that other people’s silence equaled a lack of care. I hope I know better now, and understand that sometimes silence means a person cares too deeply to be able to say anything at all.

Sometimes it isn’t that something isn’t important enough to be tweeted. It’s that it is too important for such a useless exercise.

{Don’t} Plug In

In the second year of our marriage, all the guys in our Young Marrieds/College Student Bible Study got together for a game night. Hey, thought I, I’ll invite the girls over to our apartment that same evening for movies and snacks. I sent out the invite, everyone responded enthusiastically, I spent that day cleaning and baking in prep.

Carl headed out for the game night, and I eagerly anticipated doing one of the things we’d dreamed about when we were engaged and talking about married life – opening our home to others, making it a warm, welcoming place, having it be full of life and laughter. We hadn’t had too many chances to invite people into our home yet; somehow, the folks in the church seemed hard to get to know, despite their often-quoted statement of “plug yourselves in! Find where you fit! Reach out to others!” This, though, reminded me of the Saturday game/movie/pizza nights I’d hosted all through college. This, surely, would start to bring us closer to people.

Five minutes before everyone was supposed to arrive, just as I was starting to hover by the window in case anyone got there early, I got a phone call from our Bible Study leader. Everyone had called her earlier in the day to let her know they weren’t going to be able to make it after all. She couldn’t come either, and she felt so bad about nobody coming that she hadn’t been able to bring herself to call me before. She felt so bad about making me feel bad, in fact, that I had to spend our entire  conversation consoling her. When I finally hung up the phone, feeling a bit bemused, I thought that at least Carl and I would have plenty of baked goods and a nice clean apartment for the next few days.

Then I got another phone call, this one from the new girl in church, the college student who had just started coming, the one that I hadn’t even met yet but only communicated with through email, the one I had invited on impulse, thinking she might like a chance to get to know some other students. She was on her way, she said, but she was going to be a little bit late because she’d gotten lost. I told her not to worry – it looked like it was just going to be the two of us, so she wasn’t holding anyone up.

By the time Carl got home that evening, Ash and I had been so busy talking that we’d completely forgotten about watching a movie. She left with the invitation to return for dinner in a couple days, and the promise that we would, in fact, get to watching the movie soon.

In the next four years that we lived in Pennsylvania, Ash became much more than just a friend – she was our little sister. She helped me buy a pregnancy test when I was too scared to go alone. She was actually at our house when I took the test and found out Joy was on her way. She came to us with family troubles, with guy troubles, with her joys and fears, and we likewise shared with her ours. She spent many a night on our couch because she’d stayed too late for us to trust her to stay awake driving home. She used our house and kitchen when she wanted to cook for friends. She and I went skating together, sharing our love for the sport. When she fell in love, it was our house she brought her boyfriend to, for our approval, not her actual family’s.

I’ve lost touch with most of the people from that Bible Study. Some I keep in very casual contact with through FB. But Ash is still one of my dearest friends. I was matron-of-honor in her wedding; Joy was flower girl. Through many moves and life changes we’ve stayed in touch, even if it’s only a few emails a year, and we each have a standing invitation to come to the other’s home if we’re ever in the area, even if a visit isn’t planned.

I am not a fan of the “plug yourself in to a group” mentality. To me, authentic friendship takes time, it takes effort, it takes a few individuals working together to build something meaningful. Even in blogging – when I try just jumping in and commenting on someone’s blog, I most often get no response. But there are one or two bloggers with whom I’ve slowly, over time, with both of us making the effort to get to know each other, gotten to be good friends with. And those relationships are far more meaningful to me than a few scattered comments on (or even from) a hundred different blogs.

Maybe, instead of “plugging in,” giving an image of instant electricity, we should start trying to “build fires” instead – a slow, painstaking process, but one infinitely more satisfying in the end.

Baby Joy with “Tia” Ash on a family picnic

Thankful

We had a lovely Thanksgiving yesterday. Quiet and peaceful, just the four of us here at home. We had invited some friends to share the meal with us, but all plans fell through, and in the end, that was okay.

I roasted a turkey for the first time ever, and it was delicious. The gravy also turned out perfectly, which pretty much never happens for me. Every component of the meal fell into place, and my only bit of stress came about Wednesday afternoon as I was working on the second pie (which stress resulted in me forgetting to put foil around the edges, and the crust getting burnt a little).

The pumpkin pie turned out perfectly. We had to trim the burnt crust off the apple.

The pumpkin pie turned out perfectly. We had to trim the burnt crust off the apple.

Next year, I’m only making one pie.

At dinner, the girls started sharing, unprompted, everything they are thankful for. Top of Gracie’s list were the homemade doughnuts we’d had for breakfast. The goof.

It was awfully precious to sit there and listen to them rattle off thanks … thankful for their new cousin, thankful for our new home, thankful for our old home, thankful for grandparents, thankful for each other, thankful for the ocean (“and tides!” Gracie clarified. “And REALLY BIG WAVES.”), finally winding up with Joy declaring she’s thankful for the whole world.

Well, really, how can you top that?

As I sat and listened, my chief thanks was that I was able to be thankful at all. I spent so many years numb, not able to be unhappy or happy, thankful or miserable, or anything at all except exhausted and overwhelmed, that to be able to sit with my family and really delight in them, and be utterly thankful for them, was so beautiful.

One question Christians are asked frequently – and it’s a valid question, a really good one – is that if God is so good, and so powerful, why did he allow evil to come into the world at all? There isn’t one simple answer for that. One facet of one possible answer, however, is that in a world where all is light, the light isn’t known; it’s taken for granted. But against the dark, we see the light, and we love it. The contrast makes it stand out so much brighter.

I had a really happy childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. And I’m just now starting to grasp why, possibly, God took me through so many years of darkness after I hit adulthood. Because the joy I have now at actually having joy again is so much richer, so much better, than the simple unthinking happiness I had back when I had known nothing else.

So this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for thankfulness.

And I suppose, like Gracie, I’m also thankful for homemade doughnuts. They were really good.

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Getting By

Last week was a rough week.

Monday, we learned that our friends’ unborn daughter has been diagnosed with open spina bifida with a probability of added complications.

Thursday night, we got the shocking and heartbreaking news that an old friend of mine died unexpectedly. She was in her late twenties.

In between, I worked on the sewing project from hell, cleared out two clogged drains in one day, and ignored my writing.

I spent a lot of time with my head buried in books, trying to find some relief in fiction. I read through close to a dozen novels in one week. I’m honestly seriously embarrassed and ashamed by that confession.

We adjusted fairly smoothly and quickly to this new life here, a seminary family, and I think I forgot that it’s still hard, and that there’s probably a good reason for why I feel tired all the time.

The good thing – the grace learned from seven years of waiting for seminary – is that we as a family have finally learned to stop living as though life is going to start sometime in the future, when everything has settled down and things are calm and smooth, and instead to be in the here and now, experiencing life as it happens. It may be messy and exhausting and frustrating at times, and I may still miss out on a lot of it because boy do I not function well without sleep, but at least we’re in it, not on the outskirts waiting.

Joy turns six tomorrow. Six. Five seemed ridiculously older than four, and six even more so than five. And in the midst of everything else we’ve got happening, we carved out time this weekend to go out for a celebratory breakfast, and then take a hike through the woods. Tomorrow she gets her presents and cake (we like to stretch birthdays out as long as possible around here). A few moments of calm and rejoicing amidst the storms around us.

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It’s good. We’re good.

(also, Sunday night right before bed Joy came proudly out of her bedroom to read me a story she wrote and illustrated herself titled “Kristen and the Dragon,” and you guys, I was planning on teaching things like story structure etc later on this year but but she instinctively gave it a beginning, middle, and end, and I was so proud I almost cried when she read it to me. THAT’S MY GIRL.)

Two Years

October 24. It’s been two years. Will I keep sharing this tribute every year on my blog on this date?

Honestly, I have no idea. But right now, this year, it is on my heart to do so.

And so I will.

She went out accompanied by a blaze of northern lights, some of the most brilliant seen around here in ages. Heaven welcoming a gallant soul home with fanfare.

Even after her breathing had slowed drastically, her heart remained strong until the end. We always knew her heart was bigger and stronger than most.

Her humor was one of the last things to go when the Alzheimer’s took over. Even when she was in the nursing home and couldn’t even recognize Grandpa, she would try to tease the nurses and aids. They all loved her.

They were married for sixty years. Two days before she finally died, I sat and watched him hold her hand as he told us the only reason he underwent chemo and fought so hard for life through the blood clots last year was so that he could take care of her, make sure her ending was peaceful and dignified, so that he could take care of her to the end. None of his kids could speak at that point, so I managed to choke out that he had done a wonderful job of it. They were an example to us all.

Of eight kids, six managed to make it home to say goodbye, only the one in Australia and the one in Arizona not able to get back. Fully half of the grandkids were able to come. No one fought, no one argued, no one tried to make things difficult for anyone else. Everyone acted as selflessly as human beings can act. Another testimony to the love and respect everyone had for her.

The hospital nurses teared up when their weekend shift ended, knowing they wouldn’t see her again alive.

There was as much laughter as tears around her bedside, as stories were shared and memories were dredged up and old jokes revived. Her fifteen-year-old grandson played his guitar, everyone sang, and her last days were filled with the music and laughter she loved so well.

She has been gone for a long time. Twelve years ago was when she was finally diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, at that point too far advanced to do anything but watch and pray as it slowly disintegrated the woman we all knew. The pneumonia that took her tonight was a release from that living death (twelve years is phenomenally long for Alzheimer’s sufferers – most don’t live more than five years), and our tears were as much joy for her as sorrow.

She is whole again now. She is free. She is rejoicing and laughing with her Lord.

It hurts, still, but this is a clean hurt, one that will heal. The pain of the Alzheimer’s never went away; it would lie dormant for a time, but it was always there lurking in the background. This – already there is a peace growing from the sorrow.

We will miss her. We have missed her for years. But her legacy – the love, the laughter, the strength and faith and joy – she passed that on, not only to her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, but to all who knew her. I am proud to call myself her granddaughter, and you can be sure my girls will grow up knowing about what an amazing woman their great-grandmother was.

Rest in Peace? Maybe. Personally, I suspect she is singing and dancing right now.

And laughing.

I am at peace today. That “clean hurt” I spoke of then, that I knew would heal? It’s healed. I miss her, yes. But I don’t flinch every time somebody mentions the word “grandma” anymore.

The sun is shining through the leaves this morning, scattering bits of gold and red across my window. I woke up early enough to get some writing in first thing this morning. Last night I finished Joy’s birthday skirt, and will start on the matching top today.

It’s a good day. It really is.