I Am From

This entry is long overdue. I wrote it in October, but somehow didn’t see fit to share it in this venue till now. It speaks of my childhood roots, which somehow seem fresher to me right now, since we are preparing to move to another state and say goodbye to a place that’s become dear to us. But those thoughts are for another post…

 

I am from a walnut-stained upright piano and dutiful students playing minuets, and fugues, and concertos, and my mother’s gentle prodding to “do it again; this time with more feeling,” and I sit at the kitchen table, the center of our home, and anticipate every note to be played, those songs etching their way into my memory.

I am from the green stucco house on Janine Drive and creamy white shutters standing sentinel on either side of the picture windows that look out front. A bed of pink geraniums lines the street, and avocado and lemon trees shade the back. Running between the driveways, a boxwood hedge grows thick and entangled. The liquid amber tree my dad planted when we moved in the summer of my 2nd grade year stands straight and tall. I see those limbs, the branches bearing scarlet and orange leaves every fall, and I realize that we grew up together, that tree and me.

1st ChristianI am from Joanie and John, the soprano and bass who found love in the choir Grandfather Gene directed… and from Grandmother Betty who knew they belonged together even before they did. I am from The First Christian Church of Whittier and Thursday night choir practice and Sunday morning donut runs after Sunday school. The backlit cross hanging over the baptistery and the stained-glass windows in the balcony point me to a faith in the One who calls us to His light.

I am from mom’s hugs and dad’s backrubs – strong hands each with a touch all their own – and Rummy Cue played late into the night while camping in the desert. I am from Peazle-Weazel stories and leprechaun hunts in the orange orchard, and “Jesus, tender shepherd hear me” ushering me to sleep every night just like it did for my Daddy. Little sister and I sing along with the Carpenters or Donny and Marie while our record player spins and skips, or harmonize to show-tunes in the back of the station wagon. Melodies and rhythms and rhymes so fill our days and nights, we hardly know a time when we didn’t have a song stuck in our heads.


I am from
ferry rides to Catalina Island and sunburned weeks at Ida Courts Apartments. I am from old quilts blanketing sandy beaches and early morning hikes up the windy roads overlooking Avalon Bay. The tiled fountains, saltwater taffy, red painted paddleboards, fishing off the green pier, and sunset walks out to the Casino all tell me that “family time” is to be savored and that things done over and over again take on a rhythm of their own, shaping us by their repetition.

avalon-beach-catalina

I am from the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service and the White Gift Processional – first known to me in Whittier, California, but rooted deep in the patchwork of Europe that speaks of my ancestry. I am from pork chops with applesauce, barbecue chicken with baked potatoes, and enchiladas with guacamole; from chocolate chip cookies, homemade strawberry jam, and frosted sugar cookies at Christmas; from Advent Calendars, Easter baskets, and ice cream cakes for my birthday. I am from hallways lined with family pictures, trinkets filling bookshelves testifying to world travels and curiosity long-lived.

I am from words spoken with passion and truth, and from The Word, who shows me whose I am and how He sees me – which is truer than anything else I know.

What’s in a Name?

The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means “God with us.”  Matthew 1:23

 

The prophet long ago delivered a wild prediction — a virgin giving birth.  And an even wilder promise — God is with us.

What about the circumstances of a virgin bearing a child requires a name like Immanuel, God with us?

The promised nearness of God… God approaches the pure and innocent.  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”  The untainted, unjaded, unscathed heart welcomes God, believes the hope of “God with us.”  God has not abandoned us.  He is near.

freestockphotos.com

But history passed thousands of years from the time Isaiah uttered those words to the day God fulfilled them.  The people waited, hoped, longed for the one who would come and ransom them from their captors.

And they didn’t always wait well.  They grumbled.  They succumbed to outside pressures and forsook the calling to be God’s people.  In their waiting they grew impatient, they wandered, and became enslaved.

I’m know something about waiting.  Having been pregnant three glorious times, I know the build of anticipation, the hopes and fears of all the months of changing body and growing life within.  I know the thrill of birth, the joy of the actual arrival… and the new set of hopes and fears that come with the bundle of energy called “baby.”  Immanuel showed himself each time; God was with us.  He is still with us providing the wisdom and patience to see these boys into men.

But the waiting I’m learning about now won’t culminate in a new little boy to love and care for.  It’s a different kind of waiting with new anxieties and fears.  It’s a waiting for direction, clarity, a path to be revealed that is good and honors God’s call on our lives.  So far, Immanuel has been silent.

What if we get to the end of this year in Orlando and Immanuel has stayed silent and the path elusive?  What if we come to the end of this journey without clear direction as to what’s next? What then?

I guess we can take a cue from the way Mary and Joseph handled the challenge of being the couple God selected to fulfill this wild prophesy.  Notice the pronoun — “they named him Immanuel.”

Even in the prediction, God promised the unity of mind that the couple would need as they found themselves in the midst of God’s plan.  They would need to rely on each other as they walked the difficult road ahead of them.  And they would need the promise of His presence.  “God with us” — we are not alone.

O Father, as you reveal your plan to us, as we wait with expectation, give us the fatih to walk in obedience, hand in hand.

Thank you for the promise wrapped in your name, Immanuel.

Wrapped

This will be a sign to you:  You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.   (Luke 2)

 

I have to find comfort here — in the baby wrapped in cloths lying in a manger.  The absurdity and simplicity brings peace.  “Peace on earth,” the angels said.  They said he is “Savior,” the Messiah.

But the morning after the shooting of 20 school children and 8 adults in a small Connecticut town, is “peace on earth” really possible?

I’ve read stories of the selfless school principal who entered the line of fire, the brave teachers who locked their students in closets and bathrooms, the terrified children who cried and said, “I don’t want to die, I just want Christmas.”  They have become the unwilling cast of players in this drama we share as a nation.  As the story unfolds, mothers, fathers, siblings, teachers, spouses watch with deep sadness and grief.

photo from USAToday on-line

Oh, I can’t imagine the pain those families must be feeling.  A knife-piercing, iron-searing pain that severs life and hope and joy.  The questions swirling, unanswered, would hound me, refusing me rest… or comfort.  I would want to wrap myself in a blanket and just cry.   I would want my husband to wrap his arms around me and just squeeze.

I know what it’s like to have questions hovering in the air.  I know a bit of the pain of unjust and unexplained bleeding… but this… this tragedy… is just so sad.

 

It reminds me of another sad story that occurred at the time of Jesus’ birth.  The gospel of Matthew records a paranoid King Herod who orders the killing of all the boys in Bethlehem two years old and younger in an attempt to wipe out “the one who has been born king of the Jews” (Matthew 2).  Voices “weeping and great mourning” filled the air that time, too.  In the words of Victor Hugo, “there’s a grief that can’t be spoken, a pain goes on and on” because the emptiness that follows death refuses comfort.

So even though words fail to bring explanation and sense to this tragedy, I do know One who can offer hope. In a world crowded with infomercials and annoying ring-tones, where everything but silent nights and herald angels seems possible, the message of Christmas still needs to echo through.

Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born TO YOU; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  (Luke 2)

 

Oh Jesus, enter our world, our pain, our questions, and bring your saving grace.  We are a mess without you, hopelessly lost.  Wrap us in the cloth of your birth — and your death — so we can know you, and be known by you.  

Thank you for coming to our world, and for staying.  You are all we want for Christmas.