Sunday, December 22, 2013


The plan to post (almost) every day in December didn't get far. Eight posts and it's now December 22, and my last post was eight days ago.

There were Decembers many years ago when the ambition was to bake a batch of cookies almost every day, until there were nine or ten or twelve different kinds--enough for a morning cookie party with other moms, enough to make impressive platefuls for teachers and friends.

Perhaps I need recipes for blog posts.

Searched my computer for files with the word "write" in the file name. As in "ideas to write about," i.e., recipes for blog posts.

Yes, there is such a file. Here's an abridged version:

Dementia—what it takes away
The rabbit hole I live in (and I am Alice)
Crying in church
Yeast dough—simple, exotic, satisfying, contentment
Looking back at mothers with little babies and toddlers
Making a female God a habit of mind
Spirit, breath, and breathing
Spiritual dead times—surviving them
Christmas cookies—why I need to make 12 kinds.

So it's back to the cookies. Better go check how much butter is in the fridge.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

We are the Lord's

We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.
Romans 14:7-8
This came into my head today at a time when I was thinking that life is really hard--hard for all of us sometimes, and unbelievably hard for others too much of the time. Sometimes it's the external stuff that makes life hard, circumstances, misfortune, poor health. Sometimes it's our inner stuff that fails us, distracts us, so that we descend into despair.
And yet, even there, "we are the Lord's."

I am not talking about personal despair--no need to email me, worried that I'm heading for a crisis. But I am trying to tease out hope, invoke it, because I am hoping hard right now, hoping for someone else, beyond all the cliches of hope, beyond all the hackery of religious comfort, beyond God-talk, beyond logic, way past wishful thinking.

Where does God live? How far away in time and space and abstraction? We often try to make God immediate and like ourselves--father, friend, footsteps in the sand. A companion we speak to, an answer-book for what to do and how. But those images may not hold faith enough for strong hoping, not when self-loathing and other tortures separate people from God.

Though even then, "we are the Lord's."

For it is written,‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.’  So then, each of us will be accountable to God.

With every knee bowing, every tongue praising, every one is in relation to this Lord, who is sovereign, everywhere greater than we are, from deepest space to the micro-spaces between the cells in our brains and bodies.

We are the Lord's in these places. So hope--come forth.

Monday, December 09, 2013

The Birthday Girl

My second child was born on December 11. Every year I can't really focus on Christmas until we get past celebrating her birthday. And she likes to celebrate for as long as possible.

Eliza's official due date was Dec. 24. Lon and I decided if she was born on Christmas we would make her middle name Noel. We ended up liking the sound of "Eliza Noel" so much that we later decided her middle name would be Noel no matter when she decided to arrive. And she was smart--she came two weeks early, so there'd be plenty of time to celebrate her birthday without having to compete with Christmas.

Eliza will be 23 on Wednesday. Her birth story, if I were to tell it here, would include the part where we were told and struggled to comprehend that she has Down syndrome. That part of the story is much longer than the hours of labor, and sadly, I remember it better than the part where her dad's hands caught her as she slipped out into the world. I remember it better than when I first held her.

We had a long and noisy party yesterday for her birthday, with seventeen guests, a high-energy mix of family and young adult friends. I did not know in those first days of her life that the experience of raising a daughter with DS would lead to such noisy, fun birthday parties. But that's the way her parties have always been. She knows how to command the center of attention when issuing invitations, opening gifts or blowing out candles. And her friends, whatever their abilities and disabilities, are wonderfully gracious about crowding around her and sharing her joy and excitement.

A few years ago, Eliza's Best Buddy at the high school gave her a pink Miss-America style sash to wear on her birthday, with script-style letters that proclaim her the birthday girl. Eliza also a "Birthday Girl" tiara she wears for her parties. She looked great yesterday.

And I'm thinking about borrowing them for my birthday next summer.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Grief and rejoicing

Looked at my Facebook news feed first thing this morning and clicked through a friend's request for prayers to a story about a pastor in the south suburbs who killed himself with a gun, as his mother and son watched.

My friend's post asked for prayers. I'm asking for understanding.

I'm not sure how old this dead man was, but he was safely into mid-life. Before he shot himself he said he had been hearing his dead wife's footsteps and her voice and he couldn't stand it any more. His beautiful wife, radiant in the couple's photo posted on Facebook, died suddenly of an aneurysm a year ago. The first anniversary of her death was approaching. Friends said the man had been depressed. And then psychotic. People were shocked, grieving, could not find words.

An aneurysm--this made me think of the story of another pastor's wife that has been circulating among people I know in Lutheran circles. This woman, too, suffered a sudden aneurysm. They feared she would not live, or would not recover. Six months later, she's driving and nearly back to normal. People speak of a miracle, and tell the story with familiarity, pride and joy. Humbly they talk of how precious even the small things in life seem when they are nearly taken away.

And so the question: why did one woman live and the other die? Why was it granted to one husband to endure a near-tragedy and then to write about it in ways that inspire others? Why did the other lose his wife and then his very self?

Let the story be a warning to anyone who has ever said "God never gives you more than you can handle."

And let us rejoice with those who rejoice, even as we grieve with those who grieve.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Putting off Christmas

December 5 and the only evergreen branches visible in my living room, real or fake, are scraping against the window--from the outside.

I come from families of German heritage, where Christmas trees didn't go up until very, very close to Christmas. It wasn't quite the old-fashioned tradition of the tree being decorated behind closed parlor doors and revealed to the children of the family only on Christmas Eve. But the Christmas trees of my childhood were never up before December dates had reached the 20s. And this continues in my household (though not my sisters').

This feels so virtuous, so self-denying. Practice delayed gratification even in the celebration of holidays.

Sometimes it seems like this is what we're celebrating in Advent--our ability to put off Christmas, to hold the world at bay while we reenact our Advent rituals. We follow the rules (mostly) and focus on the prophets and the Advent wreath. We deny ourselves now to increase the pleasure--oops, meaningfulness--of celebrating Christmas at the end of the month.

What does that do to Advent?

Wednesday, December 04, 2013


I'm on a post-every-day-in-December project. Or almost every day, since I already skipped yesterday.

It's a writing exercise--write every day is what you're supposed to do to build your writing muscles. Like work out every day, practice every day, eat five fruits and vegetables every day.

I don't do any of those things every day, or even more often than not. I do however, repent this every day. Or almost every day, but repentance does not easily turn into the discipline to exercise more and eat less.

What do I do every day or almost day? Read the New York Times online, help my daughter, talk to people, work, watch TV, knit. Not bad habits, but passive ones.

Luther would tell me (this blog does have Luther in its title) to make the sign of the cross daily, to confess my sins, to put away the old Adam (old Eve?--maybe that's tomorrow's post), and remember my baptism. Luther's catechism also reminds me that God richly and daily provides all I need.

Richly and daily--sounds like a mindfulness mantra. I'll try it out today.

Monday, December 02, 2013


The pre-Christmas diamond commercials have begun. I listened this evening as a deep-voiced narrator talked about the woman who gave so much to everyone in the family. I looked up at the television to see a  woman tossing her hair around, smiling into the camera, and finally gazing down in graceful surprise as self-assured masculine hands fastened a diamond pendant around her neck.

I was honestly surprised to see how beautiful she was. And then disappointed. Here we've got a narrative of a woman who has given freely of herself for the sake of others, and the years and the effort don't show. Yes, of course, it's a TV commercial and the woman on film is a model. But why does this story have to be told visually with an idealized woman, rather than a natural-looking one, with flesh on her neck, or  crow's feet, or chubby upper arms? What does love and devotion look like on real people?

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Awake and ready

I brought out the electric Christmas candles for the windows on Friday evening. My house has two old-fashioned bay windows, one in the living room next to the house's front entrance and one 'round the corner looking out on the cross-street from the dining room.

The candles in the dining room window are on a timer. They switch on in the late afternoon and turn off at midnight. The candles in the front windows have sensors that turn them on late in the afternoon and turn them off after sunrise.

The sun, I believe, is up, on this first Sunday in Advent, though I can't see it yet from my front window.  The houses across the street, and all of the houses east of them, block the horizon. But the sky is a bright and pale blue; the sun is in the sky and has wiped away the pink clouds of dawn.

The living room candles are still on--no, two have gone out. The other two will quit soon. Late last night when I went to bed, I thought about my eight lights--four on, four off. Not quite the ten bridesmaids of the parable in Matthew--but still, half were lit through the night, half not.

The analogy doesn't go very far. There's no failure of preparedness in the dining room. The electricity will flow all night. I could easily reset the timer to keep the lights on until dawn. Or I could replace those candles with ones with sensors and skip the timer altogether. I bought four photosensor candles on sale after Christmas last year, plus a dozen extra bulbs. I'm ready.

(What I didn't do was plug my laptop into the charger last night. It may make it to the end of this post, or it may not. )

But what am I ready for? I have to leave for church in twenty minutes. I'll come home afterward to say good-bye to the son who is going back to college later this morning. He's ready--we went to Trader Joe's late yesterday afternoon to buy him groceries. He's done his laundry. His mind is turning towards papers and studying for finals. After he leaves I'll go back to church and rehearse Christmas music with my tiny high school choir, get them ready to hear their "Awake, awake" anthem amplified by the resonance of the sanctuary.

And we'll see what comes next. Two candles in the front window are still on. Watchful even in the daylight.

Or maybe they just don't know when to let go.