Archives for December 2011

Hamlin Christmas

Gifts are at the bottom of my list of love languages. In fact, they don’t even make the list. They’re buried under the list in an abandoned field in a trunk with a lock.

Don’t get me wrong–I love Christmas. I love to decorate and sing songs and see family and participate in once-a-year special events. Don’t mistake this rant for holiness. I’m just not into gifts. Not my cup of tea. No one else in my entire family–all sides–shares my disability, especially not my husband and children.

Here’s what I want: for every Christmas to be like Hamlin Christmas. And this will be the last one, this New Year’s.

Hamlin, Texas (home to the Pied Pipers) is where my dad grew up on a cotton farm with three brothers. Every year since time began, the family gathers together the weekend after Christmas. People come from different states, even, occasionally, a different country. Everyone is welcome. Faces come and go. There are break-ups. Deaths. Births. Boyfriends. Soon there will be girlfriends, too. Come one, come all, eat well, watch football. Each person brings one gift–$10 max.

Then we do the thing where everyone takes a number, and when yours comes up, you can steal from someone else or take your chances at the pile. The game ends when there is no more horse-trading.

The great thing about doing this after Christmas is that everything is on sale. So if you want to get ooh’s and aah’s, you can bring a nice bath set. If you want laughs, you can bring duct tape. Once we bought our gifts at the gas station on the way there, and they were hits. The gifts are just fodder for the game.

This will be the last celebration because the last person to live in Hamlin–the host–is moving to be closer to family.

Fayma, I love you more than you love me. And you’re still full of purple mud.

See you soon.

Saturday Good Reads: Glynn Young’s “Dancing Priest”

Go read it. Now. End of post. 🙂

Most of you know the great Glynn Young from http://faithfictionfriends.blogspot.com. I call him Sir Glynn because he just exudes something regal (not unlike his main character, Michael Kent, although Glynn says he identifies more with Sarah Hughes). But I was still afraid to follow him from the blog world to the fiction world. I’ve had my heart broken too many times.

Not this time.

First and foremost, Dancing Priest is a good story. I only put it down when my family demanded my attention. It’s Dickensian. Truly. A large cast and all the coincidences and strings that come together. It’s primarily a love story, but so much more.

I like that Michael lives his Christianity rather than endlessly talking about it. What does it mean to love your enemy? Watch Michael do it time and time again.

Also, much of the story is set in Scotland, so I got to indulge my Drummond heritage. Plus, it has two other backdrops I enjoy: Anglicanism and cycling.

Beware: Don’t read the Athens section without a tissue handy. It’s not often that I am moved to cry not from sadness, but from greatness.

As I said, there is a real plot, and it’s not all about getting saved. I could not have taken that. I also like that Glynn didn’t wrap it all up and tie it with a bow, which always sickens me because that’s not how God has worked in my life. I highlighted this sentence: “I would mislead you if I said that God works in mysterious ways and that all things happen for the good of those who believe in Him. That’s true, but not the answer to the question.”

Yes!

Also, because it’s Glynn, the spotlight is on good work. You see characters expressing excellence through various creative endeavors. So rare to find in any book, much less a Christian one.

Finally, Glynn did not pay me to write this. He didn’t even ask. There’s no giveaway involved. I did it on my own because I enjoyed Dancing Priest so much.

The good news–there’s more to come!

Clover Celebrates Advent

waiting in joyful hope

Canto

On Monday night, I read the following narration at Canto, a concert benefitting the Good Samaritan Center (a clinic run by my husband) here in Fredericksburg. Astute WACOAN readers will recognize some elements from this month’s column. This came first! Thanks to the director, Jeryl Hoover, for pushing me to write something different. To the rest of you, you should have heard the choir!

SEEKING THE CHRIST CHILD: THE SHEPHERD’S STORY

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus (all sing)

Sing We Noel

1. “Once more the humble will rejoice in the LORD; the needy will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 29:19)

I used to sing.

I grew up in an Episcopal church, and my favorite service was the one where we sang the most. When we didn’t sing, I got bored, so I’d flip to the front of the hymnal and silently sing the Christmas carols in my head. To this day, I know all the verses by heart.

Then I found choir. Choir was my main extracurricular activity from sixth grade through my freshman year of college. All my friends were in choir. All the boys I had crushes on were choir boys. I sang first soprano, and I loved it. Our high school’s Christmas performances included selections from Handel’s “Messiah” and “Amahl and the Night Visitors.” Those productions bred in me a lifelong love of sacred, choral Christmas music.

When I transferred colleges, my sophomore year, I auditioned for a choir but didn’t make it. Part of the problem was that I was no longer a first soprano, and I didn’t know how else to sing. Part of it was that I had developed asthma, which is still a problem for me. My medicine hasn’t helped my voice. I thought it was just me until my mother took the same medicine when her cancer began to interfere with her breathing. Soon she gave up the medicine.

“I couldn’t sing when I was taking it,” she told me.

Was my mom in a choir? No. Did she sing solos? No. She just loved to sing, even when she was just walking around the house. And she wasn’t about to take a medication that would keep her from being able to sing.

Singing is a part of Christmas because the angels sang. And who was their audience? A bunch of shepherds, keeping watch over their flocks one night. The shepherds aren’t the ones who sang. They are the ones whose lives were changed by what the angels sang: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men.”

Gloria in altissimis Deo from Christmas Oratorio

2. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (James 4:10)

The shepherds were humble people in more ways than one. They were near the bottom rung of the social ladder. Don’t think of a rancher. Think: sharecropper. Often a shepherd was the youngest son of peasants who didn’t own any land. It wasn’t exactly a status position.

The shepherds were also humble people in that their lives were pretty simple. I doubt they talked a lot of politics out in the fields. I imagine the sheep ruled their schedules. Is it lambing time yet? Is it shearing time? Aside from their flocks, I think their next biggest concern of the shepherds would have been their families. Is anyone sick? Is someone getting married?

The Bible doesn’t tell us anything about the shepherds’ spiritual lives. Perhaps they knew God best through his creation. I bet they knew all the pictures in the stars. I bet they knew every wildflower and native grass. If you dropped them in a field in the dead of night under a new moon, I bet they could find their way home. They probably knew every critter that could be hunted and how to evade every foe. I imagine they wouldn’t seek a fight, but they wouldn’t lose one, either.

Yet with all of their concerns, only one invitation could induce them to leave their sheep, and that was the one they received. They heard the call, and they answered.

Quittez Pasteurs (Come, Leave Your Sheep)

3. “In your relationships with one another have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. (Philippians 2:5-7)

So on that holy night, the shepherds were just going about their work, making sure their sheep ate, drank, found rest and were safe from predators and thieves. To be a shepherd meant to stay alert, to keep watch. Just as the shepherds watched over their sheep, so also they watched for the long-expected Messiah.

When the angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds, they were terrified. Who wouldn’t be? These were people who worked under the heavens, and one night, from those same heavens, appeared something wholly unexpected.

“Do not be afraid,” the angel told them. Those words meant not only, “Don’t be afraid, right now,” but also, “Don’t be afraid, no matter what happens.” This baby, Jesus, would grow up, teach, heal, be crucified and rise again. Regardless of the future, the shepherds could look back on that holy night and remember the good news they received from the angel, news of great joy.

Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne
Shepherd’s Pipe Carol
It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
(all sing)

4. “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. (Luke 1:52)

What do the shepherds do after this angelic encounter? Well, they don’t sit down and debate the existence of angels. They don’t have a theological discussion about whether this was the proper way for the Messiah to appear. Maybe the idea of him being wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger wasn’t so strange to these people who delivered many sheep in the dark of night.
Instead, they dropped everything. They dared to leave their sheep. They couldn’t have brought the whole herd. Perhaps they carried a sick one or an old one or a little lamb.

We don’t know how long the shepherds stayed in the makeshift stable. We do know they made an impact on Mary, who treasured these things and pondered them in her heart. But after the shepherds saw Jesus, they left and spread the word. They told everyone, and everyone was amazed.

That is where the story of the shepherds ends and our story begins. During this season of Advent, we, too, are watching for Jesus to come again. We came here tired, worried about our families, our community, our world. These cares are our sheep, and we often have trouble letting them go. Like the shepherds, our busy lives have been interrupted by singing. God’s announcement of the good news — to them and to us — didn’t come with a command. It was an invitation. How will we R.S.V.P.?

Shepherd’s Farewell to the Holy Family

5. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” (Psalm 23:1)

(the following to be said with Silent Night hummed underneath)
Jesus, the one the shepherds went to see, would later call himself the Good Shepherd. I’m sure he knew all about the first visitors to welcome him to this world. He knew that shepherds, however humble, had a glorious history stretching all the way back to the patriarchs, back to King David, back to the prophet Amos. The scriptures Jesus would have read included descriptions of God as a shepherd, including Isaiah 40 and Psalm 23.

Maybe those ancient words are puzzling to us, but they are the ones we turn to during hard times. When my mom died, words like: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me” made perfect sense.

Pull up a bale of hay and sit down for a spell. Listen. Allow yourself to worship a Shepherd.

He Shall Feed His Flock

6. “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

Christmas is God’s invitation to us, a giant birth announcement. If we seek him, we will find him, for he is anxious to be found. After Christmas is over and we go back to our regular lives, will that singing we heard have made any difference? Come January 25, will we still be changed?

Last Christmas was the first one without my mom. I didn’t feel like singing any Christmas hymns. It was a “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” kind of December. But I came to Canto, and I heard two of my favorite Christmas choral arrangements. For that one evening, I could be like the shepherds. I could praise and glorify God.

“Jesus Who Didst Ever Guide Me” from Christmas Oratorio by Bach
Wexford Carol

7. “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. (Isaiah 55:6)

Thank you for coming tonight, for pausing to reflect on the shepherds in word and in song. This last carol, Adeste Fidelis, invites all the faithful to come and adore Him.

Maybe it’s easy for you to worship tonight. Your cup is full; you’re thankful. Maybe worship is more difficult, the way it was for me last year. Not all the circumstances in our lives lift just because it’s the Christmas season. There may still be unemployment or illness or other hard things. Still, there’s something about this season that makes us want to set aside our burdens and come and adore the one born the king of angels, the one the shepherds came to see.

May we follow their humble example. May we seek the Lord until we find him.

Adeste Fidelis

More Laity Poetry

Another poem begun in Julia Kasdorf’s workshop at Laity Lodge. She gave us a fragment of a Psalm and asked us to write a poem from it. Mine was, “He catches the helpless and drags them off in his net.” 

Estes Park, Colorado

RIO GRANDE, CREEDE, COLORADO

Dad plans all day for what will be a one-hour trip.

Tieing flies.

Gathering vest, hat, waders, net.
 

Packing snacks and water.

We drive all our gear across the street to fish

this Wild and Scenic River.
 

“Where’s your pole?” he asks me.

I grin and hold up a bamboo pole

(5 bucks at the gas station).
 

He frowns. “I’ll go help your mother.”

Mom loves fly fishing.

It is the only time she is quiet.
 

Dad arranges everything just so, the way she likes it.

The air is cool, but not the midday sun.

Mosquitoes are everywhere.
 

Me and my cheap pole can’t fish worth a damn.

I stand in the freezing river and laugh.

Mom watches the water. Dad watches Mom.
 

She casts her line by feel.

With the tumor deep in her eye, the world looks sepia.

Still she is the first to spy
 

the Colorado greenback cutthroat trout

darting through the ripples, over the stones

right to Dad. He sets the hook. Keeps the tension.
 

Uses the net the way God intended.

“Hurry! Get the camera!” Dad yells.

I drop my feeble pole and run to the bank,
 

paw through the assortment of Orvis bags, but

there’s no camera. Our phones are in the car.

Mom quotes Psalm 10:9 as if her well-marked Bible
 

were sitting right in front of her:

“He catches the helpless and drags them off in his net.”

“Not today,” Dad says, and returns the trout to its habitat.
 

He will load up his flies again,

but she will not.

The Good Lord will scoop her up soon
 

after that tumor connects with all the others,

forming a net.

A couple of years later, Dad will come back to this state.
 

He will catch a helpless trout, drag it over to the bank

so someone else can take a picture.

And he will let it go.