Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Light, 12/24/13: Through a Glass, Darkly

Christmas Eve is the last day of Advent—the end of the waiting. Word made flesh, promise arrived, fulfillment begun. 

I have spent a lot of time looking at this window in the last few months. I cannot explain why it comforts to look at it, but it does. The colors soak, radiate, enfold. 

What the light does with the glass—somehow it is a promise of goodness.

I looked forward to sitting with my family again tonight and looking at these colors, and singing, and praying, and yes crying, because the Christmas Eve service never fails to bring tears. I did not expect to grasp or understand all of what there is to grasp or understand, but I knew it would be enough. 

Tonight, though, the window was darker, lit only by a spotlight on the ground below it outside. The brighter lights were insidewhite lights on strands, and candlelight. I sang maybe half the verses of any carol, and spent the other half choking back tears. The words matter deeply. 

At the end of the service, after communion, each person was given a candle. Beginning with the flame from the Christ candle at the center of the nativity wreath, we passed the light, spread it from person to person until every one of us was holding light in our hands. Youngest was not the only child to hold her flame up high over her head, proud. 

Light, here with us.

There are three words I want to carry with me from here on out: love, mystery, graceI don’t want to forget—I am afraid to forget, actually—how these entwine all of life. No matter what is happening, these things are there, too, and always part of the working-out. They do not fail, even when they are beyond my understanding. I see them always in how God works, signs of goodness and wisdom. I take them, too, as life instructions: love, know and embrace that much is mystery, give and be covered by grace. These words to me are light to live by.

It is late now, on Christmas Eve, and the fact that we are on the cusp is tangible even if it feels less dramatic than when I was a child. This is still my favorite night of the year, this shift from waiting to arrival. And the light, I think, is brighter now.

Life—living in this place—it is part vigil, part celebration. Not just today but always. I want to learn to better take part in both. To remember these things, in the dark and in the light. To hold the brightness in my hands, and even sometimes lift it high above my head.

Merry Christmas, my friends. Peace and light to you always.

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Friday, December 20, 2013

Light, 12/20/13: Poetry

It’s messy, all of it—the all-day misty rain that threatens to turn to ice in a few hours, the fact that Middle spent the last day of school before break lying on the couch miserable with strep throat and missing everything she had looked forward to all week. The list of goodies I still want to make before Christmas (sandbakkels, anise kringle, peppermint meltaways, more fudge, more toffee, more rum balls—is there time, though?) the presents to wrap, the presents to buy still!, the cards I haven’t even thought of sending. The fact that I still, after a month, haven’t figured out how to add or remember a 20-minute nebulizer treatment to my morning schedule. The muscle under my left eye that has been twitching since mid-November.

I can step back and look at the big picture and know that it is Good. Really Good. But holy crap is it messy, and yes I have my head in the clouds most of the time, but my feet are still slogging through the mess. And slogging doesn’t lend itself to feeling graceful or light or—I don’t know—successful at walking the path one is on.

So when Youngest asked me at breakfast this morning, “Mom, does poetry matter to you?” her question was light itself. Because yes it matters, and I love that she asked.

She is reading a book called Poetry Matters. “I learned that you can write poems about anything. Even about your life!” she informed me. 

Now she wants a new diary, in order to fill it with poems about whatever she wants.

I can’t decide: sometimes poetry seems to be light itself, other times it seems like a holding up to the light. That I can’t decide makes me think it is both.

What I am sure of is that poetry has a whole lot to do with the messiness of life, and about pulling bits from the mess—whatever bits you choose—in order to  bring them into the light or to shine light onto something else. I like that they do not need to be large, and honestly, I’m not sure they even need to be put into words always. It is the finding, and holding up, and sharing that are the important part, and how personal-but-also-outside-of-yourself that is. It is life-giving.

Look back after a while, and see what accumulates.

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Light, 12/18/13: Chiaroscuro

Sometimes you find yourself having conversations with the light. Not out-loud conversations, not prayers, not silent back-and-forth, but conversations nonetheless. Because maybe you are going around the house in the morning, trying to be nice and loving, but the dark mood from yesterday lingers, maybe even grips you hard. And you walk into a room and the sunlight pouring in fresh and new across the room draws your attention to things that matter to you: the tree Middle dug up from the yard two years ago, which she moves from room to room and decorates faithfully at Christmastime; a photograph of your spirited, redheaded grandmother that knocks you over with its stateliness; your ugly-but-faithful warm mittens.

They are lit-up, their shadows dark on the wall.

By the way, she wasn’t perfect, either. The light speaks honestly but gently.

True, but we all loved her anyway.

It helps, in the same way pulling out a toy can sometimes distract a child from her tantrum.

Mood lifted? Not exactly. But if you can shift with the light that is something. Silently you thank the light for sharing this.

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Monday, December 16, 2013

Light, 12/16/13: Carrying the Sun

What did you draw on your tummy?

A diamond sun.

Is there something special about the picture?

It makes me feel sunny.

Is it a picture you saw somewhere else?

No, but I made it up.

Why do you want to feel sunny?

So I don’t feel sad or mad.

Do you like to carry the sun?


*     *     *

It makes me think about the different ways we carry light with us. And how we spread it—sometimes intentionally, sometimes without knowing it.

Basking in someone else’s warmth, though—isn’t that something? 

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Light, 12/12/13: Big Bright Yes

Sometimes you get into your car and the music on the radio is something you love and haven’t thought of for a while. Not only that, but it matches the day perfectly. And yes, it is cold outside—bitterly so—a cold that makes your hands crack open and bleed, and yes you’ve lost another pair of mittens just in time for this cold snap so that you are once again using the pair you’ve had since high school—the one pair you’ve never managed to lose, which, despite holes and the leather that’s peeling off the palms and the fact that they don’t fit very well, actually keep your hands pretty warm. But these things pale. What matters right now is how the sun is winter-bright against a cold clear sky and how it all just fits.

Sometimes it happens that everything—the x-rays, the CT-scans, the blood tests—everything comes back clear and good and the answer is that you need to just keep doing the things that are making you feel better, slow as that’s been. And the day is bright with that news, and the music in the car is swelling up to a favorite moment, and you know right there that even though your lungs are still tight and there is healing left to do, you have been on the right path. In fact, all around you everything is saying that you have been on the right path all along in a whole lot of ways. That your instincts were no accident. That all that hardness wasn’t wasted.

Sometimes you get a moment like that.

Remember this.

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Monday, December 9, 2013

Light, 12/9/13: Transformed

Do you see that? Ugly vinyl blinds. Un-openable. Years ago, whoever put in the ugly vinyl bathtub insert cut away a large portion of the oak window frame in order to make the insert fit. The ugly vinyl insert shoves hard against the ugly blinds, and the blinds do not hang right, and there is not room for them to be twisted open.

A person might wonder what use a window is if it cannot be opened or uncovered and doesn’t even do a very good job of letting the light in.

And yet the light does get in. And the light shines, and makes shadows, and plays with droplets of rain or tree branches or whatever else might be on hand that day. And the ugly vinyl blinds, once in a while, become something else.

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Saturday, December 7, 2013

Light, 12/7/13: Nightlight

Youngest informed us a few months ago that she would not feel safe unless she could sleep with her nightlight. Recently, she has made sure it is plugged in and charging before we begin our before-bed reading, so that she can bring it to bed with her like a stuffed animal. (It is, in fact, the closest thing to a stuffed animal I can remember her bringing to bed. From an early age she spurned all furry things offered to her at night and demanded a book. Or twelve. But that’s maybe another story.) Her nightlight is a special light—a Christmas gift from Oldest one year. It has personality. It glows red. And you can bring it to bed with you.
The idea grips me—the possibility of taking light to bed with you. I have not forgotten the difference one dim bulb can make in a dark room, the way it softens the edges of night, melts away the threat of the unfamiliar, of danger. How much better if you can hold that light in your hands.
I don’t know if it’s my imagination, but it has always seemed to me that my children sleep in character. Oldest sleeps calm and wise and sweet. Middle sleeps noble and graceful with a quiet, dramatic streak. Youngest sleeps warm and intense, often with her head thrown back. If we hear footsteps in the hall at night it is usually her, and it’s hard to predict where she will end up. A few nights ago Husband and I were slow to investigate the sounds coming from upstairs, but it didn’t matter, soon she came down to us—charged past us and around the dining room table to the spot where she eats, sat down, laid her head in her arms on the table and closed her eyes.
Sometimes her light travels with her during the night. I woke up one recent morning to evidence of one of her visits.
Many nights she comes to our bed. Sometimes because of a bad dream, although she usually will not talk about it because she does not want to frighten me. It is enough to be held close for a while. We both drift off, and at some point I am awakened by the pain in my arm, stretched immobile under her head. I ease her out of bed. “It’s time to go to your own bed.” I guide her to her room, into her bed, help pull up the covers as she lies down. I pray—thankfulness for her sweet, warm, spirited self, for our family, for the goodness in our lives; I pray for peaceful sleep, for rest in general.
“Good night, sweet girl. I love you.”
“Mommy, give me something to think about.”
When she is alone again in bed the bad dreams threaten to return. I have told her in the past that she needs to fill her head with other things—so wonderful there is no room for the bad dreams. I conjure up something—a chocolate-filled swimming pool, a field full of flowers-that-are-actually-jewels. I don’t always remember, later, the things I come up with. What I do remember is that always, in the middle of the night, I resolve to love better. The resolution comes simply, but I ache with it. It is light around me, around us all. Everything else melts away.

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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Light, 12/3/13: Illumination

What she can tell you is this:

The fortune tucked inside the cookie was especially good. Not because fortune cookies are to be taken all that seriously, but because the words fit so well.

Seek out the significance of your problem at this time. Try to understand.

This is true. There is no point in seeking out darkness, but understanding where the light was brightest in the dark—that is helpful. What shines? What is revealed? What glows in her head and heart? Somewhere inside those questions are growth, healing, purpose. 

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Monday, December 2, 2013

Light, 12/2/13: Day After the First Sunday in Advent

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.”
Isaiah 9:2

I have given myself the task this year of focusing on light this month, believing Advent at its core is about seeing light, and waiting—trusting—that it is a promise of Light to come. I had family plans for Advent, as well.

But we were traveling home yesterday, and because of how that went there was no formal honoring of the first day of Advent, only conversation about it, and hopes for how we can observe it as a family.

And this is so often how it is.

I love this season, Thanksgiving and then Advent. Grocery shopping is still grocery shopping, but the parking lot is colder, and more often you find yourself bracing against dark brittle air. Along with the brittleness is the sound of bells. And lights. And there is decorating and baking and too many activities, and for most of December that is the background to normal life. Expectation like white noise, but also light—blinking and glitteringacross, against, around everything. Regular life, with all its regular everything, but shot-through with something that is usually not so tangible.

And so, for us. Driving home was usual driving home, but also kind of festive. And grumpy. Nobody was ready for Monday. But I watched for light to share, and twice yesterday looked into the sky and saw what I was looking for. More than I was looking for—it was so beautiful. And there were memories of light from our trip, and new moments in the car, itself.

Even so, last night was long and full of unpacking and getting kids to bed and putting together much-needed couches from Ikea and at the end of the day I could not put words or pictures together to share anything.

The pictures waited. They were not quite what I’d hoped, but they waited. My elaborate plans for Advent stayed mostly in my head, and the general living-of-life took up most of today. But it was good, and there was light, and some of the words working their way through my head waited, as well.

Somehow the expectations, the ways in which I think the light will show itself, never quite meet reality. They brush against it, only. But the light is there, and it pricks and surprises, and there is always something to see, more than you are looking for, maybe, if you keep watching.

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