Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A holiday reflection

This time of year can be so busy. It seems like there's always a gift to buy, an errand to run, a package to mail, a party to attend.

But it's also magical. I have two young daughters, and I love seeing Christmastime though their eyes: their faces light up when we drive around to look at Christmas lights; they are so eager to receive the treat of a cup of hot chocolate; they squeal in delight when they see the blow-up Santa in our neighbor's front yard. They remind me that this unique time of year is to be thoroughly enjoyed.

I recently read a book called The Biography of Santa Clause. It's fiction, of course, but it has its roots in history. According to this account, a man from a city called Myrna became the man we know as St. Nicholas. Because Christ had come three hundred years earlier, Nicholas knew of Jesus and followed his teachings. He knew that we are to love one another and to take care of one another, so when he heard of a family in his community that needed help, he felt compelled to offer his. Nicholas understood that Jesus' point is for us to be kind and loving and generous, not for us to receive credit for good deeds. Nicholas deposited his gifts of aid in the family's house in the middle of the night so as not to be seen. Legend has it that he found such fulfillment in anonymously helping others that he made it his life's mission.

I love that account of St. Nicholas-- I think it's much better than the myths of Santa Clause that circulate today.

Christmas is a time when we acknowledge and celebrate the gift God gave us when he sent Jesus to Earth. I think it's abundantly appropriate to reflect on what Jesus did while here: He loved others.

I try to teach my girls that we don't just give random gifts to family and friends at Christmas: we try to show others that we know and love and want to delight them. And we don't just hastily grab a card off the Angel Tree at work, sigh, and add it to our long list of to-do's: we show a child that others care about her.

If you know my girls, you know they keep me on my toes. But they also teach me to be deliberate, especially at this time of year. I want them to remember the holidays as a time to love and honor others, be they family or strangers. That's what Jesus did when he came to Earth so many centuries ago. My girls may not understand theology yet, but they understand love and generosity.

So you can say that my 3 and 1 year old have helped me rediscover the joy of Christmas: that is celebrating the birth of a baby who became the greatest lover of people who ever lived.

Merry Christmas from my family to yours.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The best passage in all of literature


As you know, I am reading through The Chronicles of Narnia right now. I can't say enough about the perfection of these books-- they are . . . perfect. They are entertaining, quick to read, didactic, and most of all, they point to the wonderment of Jesus.

My favorite passage in all of the Chronicles, and therefore in all of literature, comes from The Horse and His Boy. I hope you've read it, but in case you haven't, here's a little back story:

In a far-off land, a young boy named Shasta meets a talking horse from Narnia who convinces him to run away from his cruel master. Together, they encounter many dangers on their long journey to Narnia, not the least of which are all the lions that plague them. One night, Shasta --yet again--is met with a lion.This time, the lion walks quietly beside Shasta until Shasta speaks to him. The lion, who is of course Aslan but is referred to in this passage as "the Voice", asks Shasta to tell his story. Shasta recounts the past few weeks, including the many examples of his "bad luck" with lions.

     "There was only one lion," said the Voice.
     "What on earth do you mean? I've just told you there were at least two the first night, and --"
     "There was only one; but he was swift of foot."
     "How do you know?"
     "I was the lion." And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued. "I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you."

    Shasta was no longer afraid that the Voice belonged to something that would eat him, nor that it was the voice of a ghost. But a new and different sort of trembling came over him. Yet he felt glad too . . . after one glance at the Lion's face, he slipped out of the saddle and fell at its feet. He couldn't say anything but then he didn't want to say anything, and he knew he needn't say anything.

Wow. How little we understand. How little we acknowledge God's sovereignty. How little we are in the greatness of God.

If ever there was a true instrument of God in the last century, surely it was CS Lewis. Thank you, God, for CS Lewis. And thank you, God, most of all, for Jesus. May we heed your Voice and believe in your plan.

Monday, December 12, 2011

An honest plea

I may not know the answer to most of those stock ice-breaker questions (Who's your favorite singer? What's your favorite color? What's the best movie of all time?), but I do know the answer to a much more obscure one: If you could go back in time and meet one person, who would it be?

It probably won't surprise you that I would like to meet an author.

There is one man whose books are worth reading again, and again, and again. His fiction entertains, his essays challenge, and his arguments convince.

He was childless, though many children adored him and would write him. He was nearly wife-less, until rather late in life he decided to marry and even later decided to make the marriage a real one.

He lectured at Oxford with his overcoat on, not because the room was cold but because his clothes were never properly mended.

He was an atheist and an agnostic at different points in life, and yet later he came up with the greatest logical case for Christ in all of modern history.

I am speaking, of course, of CS Lewis.

I decided to re-read The Chronicles of Narnia during the holidays. They are short, easy to read, and can be put down and picked up at irregular intervals without having lost any momentum. They also make me love Lewis anew every time I read them.

I first read them in college (actually, it is possible I read them as a child, but it is quite a different matter to read them as an adult) and remember happily crying at the beauty they held. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about these stories is that they make me love Jesus more than any other man-inspired book ever has, and Jesus is not mentioned even once in their many pages. In fact, Lewis never intended for the Chronicles to be a Christian allegory; rather, he said that he wondered what it would look like if another world had been created and also needed redemption. But still, parallels remain. In these fairy tales, Aslan, the redeemer of the traitorous and the rescuer of the vulnerable, is both wonderfully dangerous and good, grows only as his follower grows, can be harder to see at times or for certain people, and knows a beautiful world we can only dream about. "Farther up, farther in" will forever be linked to heaven for me. (I sincerely hope you are familiar with the scene I just referenced.)

Before I learned I was pregnant with Coralie, I begged my headmaster to let me develop and teach a class on CS Lewis and his writings. Even after I realized that my "retirement" meant I would never actually teach the class, I still developed a semester's worth of curriculum. It is one of my great professional regrets that I wasn't able to introduce some young men and women to the writer who changes lives even today.

Read his science fiction, and marvel at his creativity. Read The Chronicles of Narnia and live in wonderment that you can know Jesus. Read his essays and admire his logic. Read Mere Christianity and become (re?)convinced of the Reality that is God the Creator and Christ the Redeemer. Read his letters to children, and discover how to inspire a child. Just. read. him.

And if you should ever happen upon a time machine, please call me. I would love to go back just a few short decades and shake the hand of the man called Jack who truly changed my life.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

These recent weeks, in pictures

Our very, very, very, dear, dear, dear friends came into town in October. Once upon a time, we saw them multiple times a week. Now we happily take what we can get and survive on texts and calls in the interim. This lovely lady below is pregnant with her third child. Actually, she is 36 weeks right now. Isn't she beautiful? 

We still managed to get in our annual trip to the pumpkin patch with them. These girls have been going together since they were babies. Now they are pilots. Wow, where does the time go?
A very precarious double-rider trike experience led to--you guessed it--a crash. Unfortunately, my child was the one at the handlebars, so now her driving record more closely resembles her father's than her mother's.
Finally! A picture of the perfect, precious, and power-walker Madeline.
The annual school bus shot. Madeline looks like she wants to make a run for it, and Coralie and Cammy are breaking the rules of "one child per seat". Awesome.

Ryan's place of employment loves them some dressed up kiddos on Halloween. So we all bundled up our little trick-or-treaters and took them on a "parade" around the office.
Our fairy
Our kitty
Coralie got more and more bold as the night went on and even tried entering many of the homes. Madeline got more and more snuggly.

Oh yeah! Ryan and I went to Vegas and left our kids in St Louis over Thanksgiving! This picture is taken INSIDE our hotel. It's crazy what they can build in Vegas. (Also, they kids did great with their grandparents, so that will make adult-only vacations that much more tempting. Though I am not sure Ryan would want to take me anywhere again as I slept so much he worried that I had mono.)
Inside my favorite hotel, the Wynn. This garden was gorgeous. Yes, I am wearing the same outfit in the above picture, and these three photos encompass every single picture we took on the trip. Yes, I only took three pictures, and I took them all on the same day. Guess who won't be making a Shutterfly vacation book?
 A close-up of the garden in the Wynn. Do you think I could make this in my bedroom?
 Also, Coralie got her hair cut. She looks twice as old now, don't you think?

The end

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Turns out, I DO remember how to type

Tap. Tap. Is this thing on? Can anyone hear me?

My body has mutinied on me. My fingers have absolutely refused to write anything at all lately. I mean, I have written many a (very eloquent, I might add) post in my head as I lay awake in bed late at night, but those musings have somehow never made it onto this blog. Whose sole purpose is to record those musings.

Anyway, here's my best effort to condense the last however-long-period into one post.

1. I have read two compelling books for my book club lately. The first is Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, and the second is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Both were non-fiction, but that is their only similarity.

Unbroken, the story of a young man's against-all-odds survival during a brutal WWII experience, wins best book of the year for me. What happens to him would seem unlikely in even the most outrageous fiction novels. That his story is actually true? Unthinkable.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle challenges its readers to rethink the way they eat. Kingsolver and her family vow to eat only locally grown (defined by their county limits) food for a year, with the exception of coffee, dried fruit, and spices. I will admit that it has inspired me to start a garden for myself, as she claims that the food one can grow in one's backyard outshines the produce found in one's grocer, both in taste and in quality. So who wants to hoe a garden for me? I promise I'll water it!!

2. Coralie has earned the title of a Three Year Old. Charming, delightful, smart, and a  h a n d f u l. After you hoe a garden for me, care to babysit? I kid, I kid.

3. Madeline is practically running everywhere. Today in Dillon's, I turned to look for an 8 oz bag of cheese per my coupon instead of the 16 oz bag which was at my eye level (my life has many exciting parallels to Unbroken, don't you think?), and she had run down two aisles and was trying to pull kitty litter off the shelf. Coralie found this delightful; I found this rather harrowing.

4. Speaking of harrowing, Coralie can "swim". I promise you, her teacher means to near-drown her at every lesson, but somehow that little girl can get from one pool wall to another without meeting her Maker. I avoid going to her lessons if at all possible because it is all too stressful to watch. Ryan assures me this will be the case no matter what recreation my girls take up. This got me thinking-- every stinking hobby really is dangerous! Getting spiked in soccer or track. Getting hit in the face with a ball in basketball, softball, or volleyball. Getting carpal tunnel in piano lessons. Tripping up the risers in choir. Show me a "harmless" recreation and I'll show you an inherent danger.

5. In case you missed the news, Christmas is just around the corner! We are trying to do something special every day to celebrate the season, and it's much easier than I imagined. Today we went shopping for our Angel Tree girl, and tomorrow we are doing special pedicures. I know, I don't know how we are fitting it all in, but we are.

6. Also, I think I have pretty much figured out how to reconcile Jesus and Santa, thank goodness, but don't you go confusing my girls with your normal Christmas stories. I've worked too hard to get my story straight.

Ok, well, maybe you're up to speed? I am not sure when I will be able to write again, since typing is such a risk-infused activity and I don't want to take any unnecessary chances this close to Christmas. I hope you and yours are doing well and that you find yourselves in good health and good company this season!

PS-- We are not doing Christmas cards this year because I never did get my usual inspiration to undertake that project. Please don't take us off your Christmas card list!! I hope to be back up and running as usual next year. :)