The Advent Writings: this time next year

It must have been the onions.

As the knife sliced through the onions, dicing them for the soup and the latkes, tears came to my eyes. Hot and unbidden, they stung and stayed. I busied myself with the task at hand. We were celebrating the second Sunday of Advent, decorating the Christmas tree, and mixing in the end of Chanukah. We are a blended family, after all, Midwestern roots blend with Bolivian traditions, Mexican tamales, German sausage….and latkes. We honor all of our family story.

I reminded myself to breathe, and really noticed The song playing in the background.

I leaned over the counter, crying into the onions.

Last year at this time, we had just told the extended family we were moving. The awareness lent sharp colors to all the celebrations. The children played, trading a few comments about Oregon mixed with “Dude, no way…”. For the grownups, especially, there were more layers to Thanksgiving and Christmas. The awareness of coming loss makes the moments especially sweet.

And so we post pictures of the hunt in the forest for the tree, and latkes, and our giant lights for the festival of Light. And facebook people say “wow, it seems like you guys are doing really good.” Or in a phone call “you sound so chipper…”.

Yes. Yes and….And I am crying over onions.

One phrase began to swirl in my heart, shimmering there.

Let the spirit go with you.

Yes. Yes and…

There is grief.

And there is Spirit.

And my heart is big enough for both.

May the new year be blessed with good tidings
‘Til the next time I see you again
If we must say goodbye
Let the spirit go with you
And we’ll love and we’ll laugh In the time that we had
‘Til the season comes ’round again.”

Song by Amy Grant. Songwriters: John Barlow Jarvis / Randy Goodrum
‘Til The Season Comes ‘Round Again lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group
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The Advent Writings: watching the star

Last night I watched a star. Round and amazingly bright, it did a dance with the evergreen that tried to hide its brilliance.

I watched the star for hours.

I am sick, 3rd in the family to succumb to a viral throat morphed into bronchitis… miserable combo. Any mom of littles knows, coughing is worse at night. So finally I gave up on sleep and sat by the fire, watching the star.

photo: The star at sunrise

There were some smart fellows that did that some years back. Most people thought they were crazy. You see, they loved to get up in the night and look at the heavens. (That’s an old fashioned word for the sky). Then, get this…they made an international, once in a lifetime trip not because it got a five star rating; but because of a star.

A star.

This star, it seemed, was unusual. It moved. All stars move, in a seasonal pattern. And the stars in the Southern Hemisphere are a whole different sky. I don’t know quite where they lived, in the East. But these smart folks knew this one was doing its own dance. They couldn’t figure it out.

And they followed it.

Okay. I am identifying with this part of the story more this year. I am following a dream; or more accurately, a disruption. I didn’t invite it, and I tried to make it go away. Instead of diminishing, it got bigger, welling up in the most unwelcome places. Wise women around me began to affirm that this was not my imagination. The star, in fact, was moving.

And so we came. The star went north, where the air is clear (cloudy actually) and the stars bright. The whole group of us. And now we wait, for a sign. (An acceptance to grad school actually. It’s like a long pregnancy…September to May).

And when they came…they worshiped.

This is so often quoted it can get cliché. But really, take the churchy voice out and think about it. What do you do when you have no idea what you are doing? How do you respond when you come close to Mystery?

You fall on your face.

And maybe that is worship.

Late at night, coughing my socks up, and watching a star.

My epiphany.

The Advent Writings: of biscuits and home

My mom loved making biscuits. It was the 70s, the era of shortcuts: Bisquik and Pillsbury crescent rolls. From a young age, I did the biscuits. I loved popping the roll of refrigerated dough, scaring my little brother with the “bang”. Mom taught me to tuck things into the rolls; cinnamon sugar and raisins or a pat of parkay. Then we would put 2 in a muffin tin for pull aparts, or roll then pencil thin for skinny breadsticks. Sometimes, we had pigs in a blanket, with tiny “smokies” If there was extra time we would roll out the bisquik dough, patting it and cutting circles with a drinking glass. I loved those biscuits.

Mom was hard to predict. Her choices to stay numb at any cost meant I was always left guessing. Often, quite early on, I was in charge of dinner. Dad often had guests over, from the Bible college or church. The joke was we would find out in Sunday’s church bulletin. Or the secretary to the president (Dad) learned to call and double check that mom knew. My mom would rush off to the grocery store, and leave me in charge of the baking for 50. I would gather the neighbor kids, put 1 or 2 in charge of each recipe, and supervise. “…stir that one a little more” or “add the chocolate chips now, and then you can lick the bowl after.”

Growing up in AZ, baking is a seasonal affair: October to April. Then came the curve ball, as 9 years ago my body asked that I go gluten free/dairy and egg free. (This may be linked to the food patterns described above from the 70s?!).

I stopped baking. I ate store bought gf bread which needs to be charred to a Melba toast texture to be palatable. It was a base for toppings, nothing more. Finally, my mother in law had compassion, working with a gf bread recipe from a bakery in OR until it was just perfect. Every other week she made me bread.

Then my daughter developed food allergies, adding rice and sesame and chia to the mix of taboos. (Side note here, all gluten free bread found in a grocery store contains rice). For awhile, all of my experiments failed. I stopped baking.

But, in this new season in the Pacific Northwest, I am trying out baking again. Crackers and biscuits, scones and muffins. More fails mean more patience is required. The rules have changed, as the ingredients have shifted. I am starting to catch on, and having more yummy successes.

Untangling trauma takes time and hard work. But as the process of redemption unfolds, there are glimmers of good in the mix. One of those nuggets from mom is my love for baking. For those who choose to enter the hard work of story, and pursue the healing that happens, there is much to release. But this is something I choose to keep of my mother’s legacy.

As I co-create generational change, with the help of God, I bake. In Mom’s honor, we had biscuits tonight for Advent. With jam. Not Smucker’s grape jelly, but Oregon marionberry jam.

And it was very good.

The Advent Writings: home

I have arrived.

I am home.

I am watching a documentary called “Walk with me”about a Buddhist monastery in France. This phrase from the wise teacher catches my attention.

When we first arrived in Portland, we needed to use GPS to go anywhere, even the post office. Afterward, I would use voice commands to say “Siri, go home“. Instead of mapping to our nearby basement apartment, I would look up to see a map that said “1001 miles to Home“. Tears came often, the hot stingy kind that never leak.

Sometimes I would talk to a friend, and inevitably the well-meaning question came. “Is it starting to feel like home?!” What in the world, my dad’s phrase, was not the one that came to mind, although the first word was the same. Swallowing my retort, I would say simply, “I think that will take awhile yet.” Forty years in the desert, literally, does not easily make this magical rain forest feel like home.

And so, as summer melted into the rains of fall, I began to play with this in my mind. What is home? Often my memories are sensory in nature, tied to smells and tastes, flickers of light or the feel of the sun burning into me. What if I tricked my kids, or even myself, on purpose?

I began to create ritual. As the days shortened, and the light changed, I would rise and light candles downstairs. I would start the fire (with the flip of a switch). I put warming oils on my palms, and breathed in the smell of ginger, or nutmeg, or cedar, or black pepper. I started the diffuser. I put on water for tea. I baked, almost daily. I made soups and stews so the house would smell good.

And somehow, imperceptibly, there were fleeting moments when it began to feel like home. Or, at least, to feel cozy.

And so I choose, this Advent, to embrace this space, the space between. I will choose to breathe in the smells, to savor the tastes. I will allow the loneliness to crash over me like a wave; and like a wave, recede.

Advent is about the waiting.

Advent is the space between.

Advent is breathing in the longing.

Advent is waiting for home.

Becoming an activist

I think I am becoming an activist. I think I already am one, changed bit by bit.

The voices I am listening for are the voices of dissent.

The faces I am searching out are the ones unseen.

The stories I am longing to hear are those unspoken.

We are new here.

New to this land of trees and green.

New to sweatshirts and handwarmers.

New to farmers markets that close by October.

How do I find these voices and faces and stories?

The first thing we unpacked was this “Ebenezer”. An ebenezer is not a name for Scrooge, or a song by a British group. Literally, it means “stone of help”, from the story where Samuel set up a stone to remind Israel of a battle victory over the Philistines.

This Ebenezer is heavy; full of stones of remembering. The full size one lives at neighborhood Neighborhoodministries.org. The stones there tell the anguish and violence, hopes and dreams of the children in one distressed neighborhood in Phoenix. It is a place to stand, to be still, to hold space. It is often surrounded by laughter and running feet.

The stones of our Ebenezer were held one by one. They contain the prayers and love and hope and grief of the community we came from. The words were spoken to us, with eyes locked, at our goodbye.

We were deeply embedded there, in that neighborhood.

Here, in this new neighborhood, I look the same but often feel so very different.

And so this object went up first, on unpacking day, by the fireplace. (Another new thing to discover)! First, because I need to remember who I am and where I came from…

And tonight, as I listen to the wind rustle the leaves and feel the August coolness wafting through the open window, I remember…

I am held. I am loved. I am known….

in my listening, in my searching, in my longing.

And it is from this place my passion flows.

(this poem stirred me tonight, its heart cry quoted from memory by Rev. Dr. Paula Williams, a national trans advocate who shared her journey at Christ Church Portland). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q36x3x7jUSc&app=desktop

The Journey

One day you finally knew

what you had to do, and began,

though the voices around you

kept shouting

their bad advice–

though the whole house

began to tremble

and you felt the old tug

at your ankles.

“Mend my life!”

each voice cried.

But you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do,

though the wind pried

with its stiff fingers

at the very foundations,

though their melancholy

was terrible.

It was already late

enough, and a wild night,

and the road full of fallen

branches and stones.

But little by little,

as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly

recognized as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

determined to do

the only thing you could do–

determined to save

the only life you could save.

(By Mary Oliver)

In the middle

Life in the middle….

How often do we talk about that with honesty? Facebook shows lovely photos and Instagram a pithy phrase.

I am in the middle. The middle of all the details that make up a move: proof of address and waiting for keys to a place and new tags and new grocery stores and schools.

Culture shock, we learned in college, is made up of a myriad of tiny jolts. Each one is insignificant by itself, but together they add up. Soon the person rips between loving everything about the new place and people to hating it all. Somewhere, on the other side of the turmoil and grief brought by change, is acceptance.

That is true for me here too. I look the same. I speak the language. I have maps. I blend in.

But I am feeling the strangeness all the same. I am not used to being in a sea of white. The sound of English all the time is jolting to my ears, used to the melodic rhythms of Spanish. I am experiencing symptoms of HDD (Hug Deficit Disorder).

And in the moments between there are flashes of goodness. Walking into a Birth in the middle of the night I feel utterly at home. I know this space, this language without words.

Slowing down my raving thoughts, I notice. I notice a red breasted bird, a squirrel, a pine cone, a butterfly. The “detestable to do list”, it’s actual name, stops ticking off in my head.

And for a Moment all is well. A cup of tea, a space shared with a new friend, blackberries from backyard bushes… the limbo chatter in my head is stilled.

Liminal space stands still

Liminal space….the spaces between.

We are living in this land of the in between right now. It requires courage, and curiosity. Where will we be a week from now, a month from now, a year from now? Both literally, and figuratively…

And so, the questions come thick and fast, out loud from the children, and unspoken in the hearts of the adults. We are newly arrived in Oregon after 40 literal years in the desert (for me)….

And so in the middle, in the spaces between, there are moments of grace when time stands still.

Today I was sharpening pencils. The colors rolled off the ends, whittling blunt into sharp. All that we have accessible to us was brought in our two Prius vehicles, complete with matching car top carriers. Of course, that duffel included my Prismacolor pencils. But I forgot a sharpener, so a 50 cent one was found in Portland.

I took a walk today, and I picked up maple keys for my journal. They crunched under my feet as I guided the pug the long way around, behind the trees. He burrowed into a thorn bush, wanting to leave his mark on the territory. Surprised by the sharpness that came through even the pug blubber, he backed up, then tried again.

We stopped for vegan ice cream today at Dairy Hill, a local icon which (contrary to the name) has four dairy free coconut options and two sorbets. The dark chocolate melted on my tongue, and the dazed feeling of studying for math equivalency exams melted away.

The sun sets late here, and it masked the lateness of the dinner hour. We had done a marathon of rental applications, racing each other through seemingly endless “pages” of questions on our iPads. The smell of the pork and lamb mingled together, smoke swirling in the sun, as it slipped below the line of spruce and pine trees.

And so the moments come. In the middle. Memories, in years to come, will be anchored in taste and smell, the angle of the light and the feel of fresh pencil shavings.

And so we trust, the answers will come, to questions voiced and those unspoken.

In the land of the in between…

Wikipedia states: In anthropology, liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning “a threshold”[1]) is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rites, when participants no longer hold their preritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the rite is complete. During a rite’s liminal stage, participants “stand at the threshold”[2] between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way, which the rite establishes.

I need only to listen

We went out tonight to explore Multnomah village. A mama daughter date, to talk.

  • A decision was before us. I asked what she might need for the conversation. Pen, paper, journal….?
  • I need only to listen”

I stopped, startled by the simplicity of her words.

There are many decisions in front of me, of us. Adult in size and weight, things like housing and jobs and schools. I can get caught up in the task, scrolling through data and going back and forth between supposed options.

  • “I need only to listen”… comes with the whisper of Jesus’ invitation.
  • Cease striving, and know.

Listen.

The road north

One week ago we left our home. The car was packed with all our belongings, enough for a month. The kids were excited, scared, angry, sad. They were leaving behind everything they had known.

We headed west a bit, then pointed straight north. “El Norte”, the land flowing with milk and honey. Well maybe not, but we saw a lot of cows.

What was waiting for us there? I was pursuing a dream of education. But so much remained unknown. Where would we live? What would we eat? Where would the kids go to school? Would they make friends, or would they be too “different”.

Three and a half days ago we arrived.

…and here the story diverges.

There were no borders to cross, no barriers. No fear of my children being separated from me. No skin to flag me for scrutiny.

All the possibilities are still unknown. But I woke up today and read this verse, in a meditation by Richard Rohr:

Go down to the palace of the king and declare, “Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the orphan, or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.” —Jeremiah 22:1, 3

And so today we went. Not to the palace, but to a correctional facility in Sheridan, OR. The flag flew over the scene, encased by barbed wire and tall fences. We sat under an Apple tree, overlooking a fishing pond, and sang songs of solidarity. We sang for brothers and fathers and sons, 121 from 16 countries recently brought here from the border. They are missing wives and mothers and children, forcibly separated from them.

And so this seemed right and good to do, our first weekend in Oregon. Standing with Sikh and Catholic and Lutheran and Presbyterian and Quakers, praying as we held the chain links in our fingers. Hannah and I felt a strange sense of belonging, even in this strange cool green world populated with so many white folks.

There is hope for this family, my family, in this move north. We ache for our community in the desert. But, we stand together, with eyes open in curiosity and wonder. What will open before us in the days to come?

And for our brothers and sisters who no longer have the dream, we stand. And we will continue to pray, to protest, to write, to call. We choose to speak for those who have no voice.

My Ebenezer…

In Hebrew the meaning of the name Ebenezer is: Rock or stone of help. Famous bearer: the Old Testament Samuel gave the name Ebenezer to a stone set up in recognition of God’s assistance in defeating the Philistines.

Today we were given this Ebenezer, a very heavy exact replica of a huge look alike on the property of Neighborhood Ministries. The Ebeneezer on the property holds the prayers of children. Kids like those who will converge on the property tomorrow for Kid’s Club, 500 plus a hundred leaders. The stones there are the prayers, hopes, dreams, and unnamed pain and violence of their stories. It is a beginning for them, a naming. Even this small private act gives courage to name these raw things to a person. And we know that the words written on those rocks have been heard by “El Shama“, the God who hears.

But these rocks today were placed one by one by hands dear to us. This was our goodbye. Written on the rocks were words representing a prayer for us. Courage. Risk. Adventure. As each person passed by, they placed a stone. Before it was placed, there were long hugs, many tears, eyes locked in raw seeing.

Here in the desert, in this often overlooked part of Phoenix, we have shared life together. Overlapping three generations now, these thirty years. Neighborhood started as a simple act, really. What if one group of people committed to one distressed neighborhood in Phoenix, for the long haul? We were assigned to this fledgling ragtag group to “grow up” a little. True story.

Today looks a lot like family. Bio family was there, surrounding our boys with tears. Today is Father’s Day, often a day of pain for me. Family can be messy, and this group of people is raw and real. None of the in-the-box church here.

And so I am grateful. Grateful for words spoken, and for those left unsaid. Grateful for rocks held in hands full of love. Grateful that we can carry them with us on the road to Oregon.

I talked with my kids later about why Kit used the word Ebenezer. We had heard that word sung in an old song Come Thou Fount today, a change from the vibrant Spanish melodies.

Here I raise my Ebenezer

Hither by Thy help I’ve come

And I hope, by Thy good pleasure

Safely to arrive at home

My daughter recognized it, and sang thT verse. Then she sang another line and it sounded a bit different than the one I heard in my growing up years.

And my heart says yes. Yes, to the God who Hears. Yes, to the God who Heals. Yes, to the God who goes before and behind. Yes. May it be so.

Here’s my heart, oh, take and heal it

Heal it for Thy Home above.