Friday, December 24, 2010

God With Us

I read this from The Anchoress today:

It’s what we’re called to, not merely as Christians, but as human beings. To be willing to ENTER INTO the pain, or the fear, or the tumult and whirlwind of another person’s life and say, “ssssshhhh, it’s alright, I’ll keep you company for a little while…” It is humanity at its finest.

And while it is, as I say, neither the exclusive calling or the exclusive virtue of the Christian (in fact in too many Christians it is all-too-lacking), I cannot help – in these final days of Advent – to think about what God did, in a lonely cave on the outskirts of Bethlehem, when He condescended to enter into the pain and fear, the tumult and whirlwind of the world…when he “set his tent among us,” not merely “dwelling” among us as lofty king, but literally “with” us, with hunger, the capacity for injury and doubt…

God entered in, not with a cacophany of noise and a display of raw power, but as the humblest and most dependent of creatures: a baby, lying in a manger, a place for the feeding of animals. He, who became Food for the World, entered with silence, as though he had put his finger to the quivering mouth of a troubled, sobbing world and said…”ssshhhh…it is alright, I’ll keep you company…”

Of all things, this made me think of an experience at Ikea I had a few months ago. I did a little shopping with the boys, and then we headed to the cafeteria for lunch. As the boys, eager for meatballs, walked a few steps ahead of me, I passed an elderly man. His head (not his face, but his bald skull) had something very wrong with it. It brought to mind a piece of fruit that had gone bad and then been dropped on the floor.

At first I was just shocked. Then I thought, Thank God the boys didn't see that. Then I felt terrible for my reaction. I imagined how hard it must be for that man to live in a world with people like me who don't know how to graciously respond to people with squishy-looking heads.

Still mulling over The Anchoress's words, another time came to mind. Shaun's Grandpa Chick was dying, and we went to see him for the last time. As far as we knew, he could not tell we were there; his eyes were closed, his body was agitated. And I felt ashamed at how uncomfortable I was, of how hard it was for me to be there.

There are so many things I don't want to think about. Orphaned kids; hungry kids; kids whose parents tell them they're stupid. I can hardly stand it. There is so much that is difficult and painful, and ugly in this world, and I often feel that if I don't avoid it, if I know too much about it, then sadness will overwhelm me.

Not Jesus, though. He came to live among us. He sees the diseased bodies. He sees the child soldiers. He sees the mass graves and the underground cities. He sees, and, unlike me, He does not turn away.

His name is Emanuel; He is God with us. Praise God for that. May He grant me the courage to follow His example.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Off To A Good Start

Today was the first day of vacation for the boys. They slept later than usual, so I did too. They did get up before me, though, and, after Shaun left for work, I could hear them talking in Nels's room, deciding what to do.

"I'll go get my stuffed animals!" said Willem, racing off to gather them up. He returned to Nels's room and climbed up on the bed.

"OK, but I don't want to play stuffed animals," said Nels.

"OK. We can just snuggle and look at some books," suggested Willem. It was agreed.

Though their quiet reading time quickly devolved into squabbling, the original impulse was a good one, and set the tone for the day.

After breakfast the boys and I went through all their toys together for the first time. (Usually I make things disappear when the kids are sleeping, but I suspected that I wasn't being ruthless enough.) We looked at every toy, one by one, and passed judgement: keep, toss, give.

My intuition turned out to be correct; the boys quite willingly (cheerfully, even!) got rid of a ton of stuff, and we all feel a lot better now. Ah.

Pleased with a job well done, I went to check my email and almost fell on the floor. My inbox contained an email from Breadline Press, telling me they'd accepted my submission to their first West Coast Anthology.

I was so excited that I couldn't even remember what I'd sent them. (Turned out to be a short memoir piece.)

I'm not much of a goal-setter, but this year I had decided that I would work toward being published in print for the first time by the time I turn forty. Maybe that doesn't sound like setting the bar very high, but it seemed plenty ambitious (bordering on presumptuous) to me! I'm thrilled to be two years ahead of schedule.

It's a good thing I had a productive morning, because I was worthless for the rest of the day. I did manage to order some bagels and lox from Russ and Daughters for my grandpa's Christmas present.

I also got to the vet's office before they closed so I could buy our cat the solid gold food that she barfs up less frequently than any other kind. (Hmm...just like that crazy expensive formula we used to buy when the boys were babies, imagining that perhaps they seemed slightly less miserable than they were with the cheaper stuff. I sense a theme.)

It just so happens that our fridge in the garage is fully stocked with chilled sparkling wine for a New Year's Eve party, and I was very happy to have an excuse to break into the stash.

To recap: the first day of Christmas break started with my boys reading in bed and ended with a celebratory toast. Now that's a good day.

Friday, December 10, 2010

What He Lacks In Self-Control, He Makes Up For In Self-Awareness

When I went to pick up Willem from preschool on Tuesday, I could only conclude that he'd been working on a Christmas present for me and Shaun.

I could see his lips moving as his teacher brought him out to the car. She slid the door open.

"Try not to tell. Try not to tell. Try not to tell," Willem repeated to himself fiercely as he climbed up into his seat and buckled himself in.

"Try not to tell." That was all he said until we'd made it out of the parking lot.

"I don't want to talk about anything because I might accidentally say," he told me.


I hope he doesn't slip up--it would be a shame to waste such a monumental effort. So far so good.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Very Bellingham Thanksgiving

Our plans to drive up to Bellingham for the Thanksgiving holiday were threatened by a spot of weather, but we checked the road conditions, said a prayer, and drove up on Wednesday afternoon. At one point rain was freezing to the windshield, but the moment passed, and the rest of the drive went smoothly. Thanks, for the most part, to these three magic words: BOOKS. ON. TAPE.

Yes, we've reached that magical age. The boys sat still in rapt silence for FOUR HOURS. That's the good news. The bad news is that the book we were listening to was The BFG (it sounds profane, especially when Willem says it, but it stands for Big Friendly Giant) by Roald Dahl.

I am a huge Roald Dahl fan, but my love does not extend to that book. It revels in disgusting details while lacking an appealing hero or even any truly witty wordplay. The voice and the dialog of the BFG himself were so very unpleasant that I wanted to throw myself out the door every time he spoke. And the BFG had a lot to say. Next time we'll choose our book more carefully.

Next time I'll pack more carefully as well. On Thanksgiving morning Shaun and the boys had to wear rain boots on their walk in the snow. They are hardy fellows.

The snow was short-lived, which made me feel better about neglecting to bring the proper gear. Big rain and wind followed on the day after Thanksgiving. A walk down to the water presented a sight we don't see every day.

I've been trying to figure out what color Willem's eyes are for a few years now. I think "rock" should be an option.

As always, Juli and Dad went above and beyond in readying their house for a boy visit. Appropriate toys were purchased:

Themed cookies were baked:

And Juli single-handedly turned out a delicious Thanksgiving feast (along with many other meals and desserts.) All I did was snap a few green beans.

I may have mentioned before that my dad and Juli have a lot of birds. They have a whole nook off their living room devoted to birds. An aviary nook.

When the birds get fed, they are set loose from their cages for a bit. This time the boys were braver around the birds than they had been two years ago. Though they still weren't entirely comfortable, there was significantly less cringing and flinching this year.

I finally got a chance to make myself useful. Before we were even tired of turkey, Juli made crab bisque. Crab bisque is a party in a pot.

By Saturday morning the beached boat was back in action.

And, again, something we don't see every day: a man walking his goats. Actually, he was only walking one of the goats. His dog was walking the other goat. The dog wore a harness and walked alongside his owner, pulling the goat along behind. ("That goat's stubborn," explained the man.) They attracted quite a crowd.

Willem picked up a pine cone on our walk to bring home to Juli. I thought he took it very well when she gently declined his suggestion that they glue googly eyes to it.

On Saturday afternoon my dad took us around to the museums in town. At Whatcom Museum's new Lightcatcher building we saw some beautiful historical photos of Bellingham bungalows (a few of them were on my dad's street!) and a very nice exhibition of WPA works. The children's area had a corresponding play shantytown, which struck me as funny, though it probably shouldn't.

At the Old City Hall building we saw some interesting historical artifacts, including a complete dentist's suite that was truly terrifying. We also got to see some giant prints of some great old photographs that my dad had worked on.

The Mindport interactive art gallery downtown was the big crowd-pleaser of the day. It is a very playful yet very serious (in a good way) place. Juli was busy in our absence; we came home to a dinner of turkey tetrazzini, which I declare a very fine use of leftover turkey. She made apple pie for dessert. It was the third pie of our four-day trip.

We headed home on Sunday morning. By that point, I'm sure their cat Freddy was starting to wonder if life was still worth living.

We made good time on the drive home, though it was less peaceful than it could have been. For all the tearful and persistent begging, Shaun and I just couldn't bring ourselves to listen to The BFG again. No way.