Friday, December 25, 2009

merry happy christmas part 2: justice and endless peace

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and for evermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
Isaiah 9:6-7 (NRSV)

These words from the prophet Isaiah have been circling continually through my mind this Christmas season as again and again I am struck by the promises of justice and endless peace. Now, these values did not reign during the life of Jesus or even after he died and rose and ascended, and I think we are all quite aware that we do not have justice nor endless peace today. Rather, these promises are part of that "already and not yet" tension of our world: justice and peace, in some very small measure, are here, but their completion has yet to arrive. God's beautiful redemptive work began with the infant in a dirty manger, but it was not finished there. Rather, it continued and continues still and will continue onward until that distant day when justice and endless peace really do come and stay and reign and change everything, that day when God will make all things well.

And all this begun with a little child, a tiny Messiah... and long, long before he was tangible and here and lying naked as an infant before humanity, there was this ancient foretelling by the prophets... and outside of time and in complete control and knowing every word of the story is God.

How incredible.

So as this holiday season moves towards its close, may we continue to wait on and seek endless peace and justice, and as we do so, may we rejoice in the child born for us. Much love tonight and always, dear ones. Merry Christmas.

merry happy christmas part 1: a christmas montage

Some glimpses of Christmas present (and past)...

As these two presently live in Uganda, Christmas was a little different here at home. We missed them very much but give so many thanks that they are thriving where God has placed them.

We give thanks also for Skype.

But due to their absence (or maybe my tendencies towards this kind of thing in their presence), there was considerably less of this sort of shenanigan today:

However, both in Uganda and back here at home, we ate the same perfect Christmas breakfast, the Cinnamon Sweet Roll that my family has enjoyed for all of my remembered Christmas mornings:

This recipe was first discovered in a local newspaper and has now been prepared for our family for years by my incredible mother:

Love her.

These hazelnut cookies are another family favorite:

They come to us from my dad's side of the family. And speaking of my wonderful father...

Look at that fishing vest! I think it has a thousand pockets! Approximately!

Oh lovely Christmas.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

holiday. (hope.)

I apologize for the delay in getting this post up, my friends! The past few weeks have been busy and full to the brim, but I've been happy. Various factors, of course, have contributed to my happiness, but not the least of these is the mere fact that it is Christmastime.

I love this season. I love the sparkling white snowdrifts, the Christmas decorations, the bustle downtown, the homecomings, the gatherings of friends and family, but most of all, I love this season for the hope that it brings, the hope -- and the longing for hope -- made visible in all of those tangible things that I love. At Christmastime, life remains as it always has been, difficult and confusing and hard, but people are happy; they are joyful and hopeful for no reason in particular.

The hope manifests itself everywhere. It is in the flood of red Christmas sweaters donned by the old folks volunteering at my workplace; it is in the holly-and-ivy-patterned Christmas socks peaking out of one woman's black slingback shoes. It is in the enormous Christmas tree downtown by Rosa Parks Circle and the inexplicable joy the good people of Grand Rapids found in lighting its blanket of tiny colored lights. I went downtown for the "lighting ceremony" and observed this firsthand: a large crowd gathered around the tree, small children running around by their parents' feet, the mayor saying something inaudible and muffled, everyone counting down, four three two one, a member of a prominent GR family pulling a lever. The lights were off; the lights were on... it was incredibly anticlimactic. But everyone cheered loudly; everyone was smiling and laughing and talking. Hope. I see hope also in friends gathered around a table filled with different types of Christmas cookies, a plate contributed by each one, and I see and hear and taste and feel deep in my bones the hope in friends gathered to reunite and sing, sharing latest chapters of life and living out community and loving so well. I find hope in Christmas music. I remember the chaos of the holidays during college; each year, I found myself listening to George Winston's December album earlier and earlier in the season as my stress level continued its ascent. Well, I would reason, October is close to December. Post-college, it still makes me hopeful. It reminds me of home. I've added Sufjan's brilliant box set and Rosie Thomas' Christmas album to the list of hope-inducing Christmas favorites, and these remind me of college friends and more recent Christmastimes. There is hope even in aesthetically unpleasing flocks of inflatable yard decorations and mismatched and flashing Christmas lights. Oh, and those big, beautiful colored lights, those do it for me every time. As do nighttime snowfalls and the smell of burning wood in the fireplace and radio stations that for weeks play nothing but Christmas music and evergreen trees and children reveling in the freedom of Christmas vacation...

I could go on and on and on.

My point is this: these things bring not only excitement and a superficial joy but also something deeper, some kind of intangible beauty and longing for something greater and more awe-inspiring. This longing, this waiting, this is Advent, and this is what we see in the prophets, the yearning and the anticipation and the preparation for the One to come. And like the prophets, behind the blinking lights and reindeer sweaters and holiday shop hops, we also are clamoring for something to make us joyful, desperate for something to hope for. We are seeking a reason to be happy and begging the heavens for assurance that all will be well. Christmastime may offer lights and presents and music and holiday apparel, and all of this can be wonderful, but we often mistakenly believe that therein lies the "something" we hope for, when really, we have only to continue looking a moment longer and to reach down just a bit deeper to find the answer that actually responds to the questions of our souls. There is something to be hopeful for, something to anticipate, and it isn't just that gold paper link at the end of the Christmas chain, the one that marks the giving of presents and the culmination of the whole season. Rather, it is the little baby the gospels speak of, the Messiah that came and lived and loved and died and rose and is coming again.

We do not hope in vain.

So this season, let us focus our hope on the God that really will make everything alright. Let us ground our hope in truth. And meanwhile, as we wait, let us live out the redemption that he promises and grasp and remember and share the life-giving hope for something brighter and more beautiful than all Christmas lights and blinking stars combined.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


This is what it looks like outside:

Therefore, after surviving the commute to and from work (and the 8.5 hours in between), I returned home and came inside and stayed. And then I made soup. Really good soup. And these cookies from Heidi Swanson's brilliant blog, 101 Cookbooks. You may notice that hers are prettier than mine, but tonight, what mattered more was that the oven heated up my house (and, as a result, me) quite nicely, and these very gingery cookies with bits of chocolate and a coating of sparkly sugar were festive. I like festive, especially at Christmastime. And especially when life is uncertain.

Now, I am finally warm. Also, well fed. And although it is freezing and windy and blustery outside, it is also quite lovely, particularly when I am inside, peering through the windows at the snow globe of a world in winter.

May you be safe and warm and well-fed and festive and full of joy these mid-December days. Merry Christmastime.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


A big decision looms, and I do not know what to do.

For a few weeks now, my prayer has been that God would close all the doors but one -- the right one -- because I honestly do not feel equipped to make this decision. Unfortunately, I am beginning to think that this will be one of those times when God does not give me what I want. It seems, in fact, that he might throw ALL of the doors wide, wide open and leave me to choose which one to walk through.

Dang it.

I really wish we could have done this the easy way. You know, with God forming the clouds into arrows that point towards the neighborhood or city where I should move and writing the answers to all of my questions in chalk on the sidewalk outside of my house and having a stranger at the grocery store spontaneously burst into song with words outlining my whole entire future, from today until the day I die.

But no. And, of course, I am sure that all of this is for something, for some greater purpose that I just don’t understand. But that doesn’t mean I like it.

This has been particularly difficult for me, I think, because in addition to being quite awful at decision-making and somewhat (extremely?) irrational when I am stressed and/or tired, I am facing this very significant life decision on the heels of a season of no options... of no tangible possibilities or offers or even workable suggestions for jobs or relocation or future plans. I guess I just expected that when that whole time of uncertainty ended, the something that followed would be clear. And singular. And simple.

But, as two of my dearest and wisest friends told me in two separate conversations, what is MOST difficult here is that at the end of the (metaphorical) day, no one can tell me what to do, and there is no "right" answer. This is quite unfortunate, as I would really like one right answer as well as someone to tell me what it is. I am sure I should find some peace in this, because it means that all will be well regardless of my choice, but it mostly just makes me confused. Don't get me wrong, I do believe that God is guiding me to my decision. But it's not black and white this time.

My head is spinning.

And I’ll be honest, today and yesterday have not been the best of days. I’m very weary. And I just spilled half a pan of lentils on my kitchen floor. I know, right? I almost cried. I might have used a word I won’t repeat here.

Yet in the same world and in the same little life in which lentils spill on the ground and wise decisions seem impossible to make, there also reside much beauty and all manner of good things. As I drove home from work last night with the new(est) Imogen Heap album playing in the background, I saw the moon rising in front of me, enormous and glowing white in a sky fading from blue to purple to darkness, and then I saw in my rearview mirror that the sun was setting just behind me, coloring the opposite horizon red and orange and yellow and pink. It was so intensely beautiful and strange, I nearly cried.

And then tonight, prior to the lentil-spilling incident, I sat down on the couch with my coffee to get some work done and saw that my neighbor across the street has flashing Christmas lights. Several types of flashing Christmas lights, to be specific. I smiled in spite of myself. Though aesthetically quite horrendous and not at all helpful to my ability to focus, I find it somewhat delightful. It’s Christmastime, after all.

So at the end of the (non-metaphorical) day, I will crawl into my warm bed and try to turn off my mind and let myself dream and remember that, in the words of Julian of Norwich, bless her soul,

“All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”