The Advent Writings: a seed

Darkness and Light. 

Waiting and Coming. 

Sorrow and Hope. 

Death and …

We hold so much at Christmas. All of that not knowing, together with the not yet. 

I am a desert girl, mostly. A turtleneck in the morning, just because. And then a/c when kids get in the car. Desert kids don’t understand winter. Therefore, they can’t know the mystery of spring, of green shoots pushing up through the snow. In Phoenix, we force bulbs. We put them in the refrigerator drawer for “winter” and then take them out to let them know it’s spring. A tiny shoot begins, stretching up bit by bit, reaching for the light. 

I am still sitting with this poem I shared recently, letting it work it’s way in deeper, one line at a time. Today it’s the “tiny shoot”. 

The poem was born from a midwife (Advent, by Sister Christine Schenk). 

I wait

With quickened hope

For crooked paths to straighten,

With tough-soul’d anguish,

While blinded 

Keepers of the keys 

Cut off

God’s own. 

(If such a thing were possible). 

I wait, 

And will not be 

dismayed. 

For tiny shoot 

Of Jesse tree

Took root in me. 

To love, 

Transform,

Give sight, 

Set free. 


The tiny shoot. 

In me. 

Reaching, 

Stretching,

Growing;

Toward the light. 


The Advent Writings:  I wait.  

I wait

with quickened hope 

for crooked paths to straighten, 

with tough-soul’d anguish, 

while blinded keepers of the keys

shut out God’s own. 

(If such a thing were possible.)

I wait,

and will not be dismayed. 

For tiny shoot of Jesse tree

took root in me. 

To love, 

transform,

give sight, 

set free. 

(Advent. By Sr.  Christine Schenk.        A midwife)

I have been bathing in the waters of hospital birth again, this time in a new role. I put on the white coat, with its instant prestige. I put on the title, reluctantly: “Professor Wilder”. I notice I am more comfortable with my first name. I am so aware that the kind of birth I get to do at home is 1% in our country. This 99% is the norm.  Full of risk, adrenaline, and hurry, and occasional moments of goodness….the babies are born. There are redeeming moments:  the nurse who goes the extra mile, the Doctor who dares to trust, the student  nurse who has eyes to see. For this reason, I enter; to offer my gifts. 

And yet, I am so aware of the stark contrast.  The precious spaces I  get to hold in the home with mamas are thick with the sense of the holy. 

There was another birth done in a way that was also countercultural. Even then, you didn’t birth in the barn. And yet the sense of the holy was thick, even there.
And so we come to Advent.

We invite the holy. 

And we wait.

The Advent Writings: the candle of hope 

Hope is a fragile thing. 

I was asked by my counselor (who specializes in disruptive questions):  “Do you have hope?”  My knee jerk response was, “I don’t want to jinx it.”  I regretted that response. She pursued my heart in kind and bold ways, and I left that fall Phoenix day feeling small and very stirred. 

At every turn that week the word jumped out at me, inviting me farther in. Ericka shared at Neighborhood that week from this passage about the longings of immigrants: for something better, for a home, for a place to belong. 

 Each one of these people of faith died not yet having in hand what was promised, but still believing. How did they do it? They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world. People who live this way make it plain that they are looking for their true home. If they were homesick for the old country, they could have gone back any time they wanted. But they were after a far better country than that—heaven country. You can see why God is so proud of them, and has a City waiting for them.  (Hebrews 11:13-16)

Other translations say that God was not ashamed to be called their God. The alien, the stranger in the land. The ones who never got what they hoped for. Not ashamed. 

One of those crazy passages on suffering that got a bit warped in my growing up years says something similar:

because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5). 

Hope. It doesn’t put me to shame. Shame I understand, the Journey Mate of a wounded child. Ca-Ching.  God is not ashamed. 

I got it. 

Hope has nothing to do with getting what I hope for. That’s a terrifying relief. Over and over as I wrestle I see two resting places.

       God is present. God is good. 

Nothing more. 

And these I know. I have walked the inky blackness of suffering. I have plumbed the depths of these words. 

Today we lit the light of the prophets, the candle of hope. 

So yes, to answer the question, 

I have hope. 

Of turkeys and tables

I wonder what aromas swirled around your thanksgiving table today? The smells of turkey mixed with the spicy scent of pie, sharp olives and sweet sticky buns. Smells anchor memories, and foods evoke the ghosts of Thanksgiving past. Perhaps there is pain in the remembering. 

Talk swirls around the table too. Some families have gratitude rituals, drawing children and grown ups alike into the invitation to remember the year. Tears and laughter mixed today at our table as we recounted stories. Grief and joy can walk hand in hand in those sacred moments when time stands still. 

This is a liminal space for us as a country. The time between, not knowing what is ahead. For our immigrant brothers and sisters, who represent our ancestors too unless we are Native American, there is fear. 

Jesus came to the table too. He shared feasts and ritual with his family of choice. He invited others to the table. The stranger, the man who ripped people off, the woman from the other side of the border, the prostitute caught in the act. A shocking guest list, in a place marked by doing the meals right. 

I wonder who the Church invites to the table? In this space between, I invite you to wrestle with that question.  Don’t make the guest list too short. The widow, the orphan, the stranger in the land. The one who weeps, the one who dreams, the one outside your comfort zone. 

Listen to the stories as you go around the circle. 

And give thanks. 

Not acting

“Acting is fun. Some people act at life; but life is not an act. You have to show up real.”

My kid quote of the week. How many grownups know this? 

I acted in my first play in high school, my junior year, age 15.  I think it was maybe seven brides and seven brothers;  but I have a few high school people who would know. Anyway, I remember we were supposed to dance… only it was a Christian school. So they called it choreography and it was OK. I loved the swirling skirts. 

I loved acting. I loved the dressing up. I was really shy, and it gave me an opportunity to be someone else. But in real life, that was already a skill that was well honed.

In a “Ministry” household, we learned young to always be perfect. I know this pressure is common to all preachers kids and missionary kids (pk’s and mk’s).  Some respond like I did, and learn to be very very good. Some go the other way. 

In my house, there was another layer to it. What was shown publicly was not real life at our home. There were so many layers of contradictions, and hiddenness. It has taken decades, and lots of counseling, to begin to make sense of that.

And so I learned young to change my face. I actually remember one instance in particular:  a finger snap when I was crying, and immediately holding out my hand and putting a smile on my face to shake hands with the parishioners.  We extended “the right hand of fellowship.”
Old habits die hard. I am learning to show up real. That life is not an act. Sometimes there are situations that I don’t place myself in; so that I don’t default back. One step at a time, God is redeeming my story. 

I invite women to show up real. In groups, with my midwifery clients, with my kids. We use art, role-play, exercises, and sometimes a talking rock. I invite story. Because life is not an act.

You have to show up real. 

When hello means goodbye

Holding space tonight for the babies gone too soon. Sometimes hello means goodbye.

Sometimes the baby is taken before it’s life is even known. Sometimes others make choices for wee ones. Sometimes we don’t even get to say hello. Sometimes there is no space or time for goodbye. Sometimes we are asked to love a baby not knowing for how long what the end of the story will be. Sometimes there are no tears left to come. 

This concludes pregnancy and infant loss month. I have entered spaces of grief often this month, my own and others. My heart aches for my baby gone before I could know her. And for a mother who buried hers today. I hold space for a family who has been mourning for a long while. And for another whose baby changed us all. For a family daring to love without guarantees, just to bathe a baby in love. 

In the middle of Halloween and elections, may there be space for quiet remembering and loud grief.

Death screams. 

And we will never be the same. 

Word crafting 

My daughter wrote in her journal tonight. The idea she was chasing is that when I write I express the image of God.

It made me think. What does it mean when “Word” is used to express a name for God. Is writing part of that expression of the very reality of being made in His image?

When I began  to write, I would sometimes say that I was writing because it was the only thing on my list of “things I will never do” that I had not done. Here is the list: foster care, adoption, homebirth, women’s groups, writing.  (If you know me at all, you are probably laughing about now). 🙄

So on the light of that list, and the humor of God, sometimes I joked that I started to write because it was inevitable. But I think that this reflection calls to me in a tender  way;  in simplicity and truth.

There are  words inside of me that long for expression. Perhaps that is part of how I am made, to express an Image.  When I write, I am  reflecting something bigger.

And so, I write.

Precious Lord

I woke up with these lyrics woven vividly into a dream acompanied by the music itself:

Precious Lord, take my handLead me on, let me stand

I’m tired, I’m weak, I’m worn. 

Through the storm, through the night

Lead me on to the light

Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home. 

When my way grows drear precious Lord linger near

When my light is almost gone

Hear my cry, hear my call

Hold my hand lest I fall

Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home. (Thomas A Dorsey)

I did some reading about the origin of this song today. The author was leading music when he received a telegram saying that his wife had died in childbirth. A week later, the baby died as well. Somewhere in the journey of his despair he sat at a piano and this heart cry poured out.

I also learned,  curiously, that Elvis made this song famous and also Mahalia Jackson. This was not something I knew as those singers were banned in my Baptist upbringing. When I hear this song I hear it in my grandmothers voice. 

My grandma was the song leader at Aurelius Road Church, in the Lansing/Holt area. She had a deep voice, unusual for a woman. As the story grows, or goes, she wore a peacock feather in her hat.  She was single in a day that was rare. She owned her own gift and Bible bookstore, and had a dry cleaning business. She had her secrets, which died with her.

I know that for me, as a child, my grandmother provided moments of safety. I had named her Meemie, early on. Supposedly, this was my childhood attempt to say pennies, and she always brought me plenty of those. So I would look at her purse In her photograph and say Meemie’s. (I will let you draw from that what you want to; it is not the point of the story). 

Meemie would come to see us on a big airplane, her floral suitcase bulging and held together with packing tape. When we opened it, it would be full of crackerjack prizes. No one ever pointed out where all those boxes of crackerjacks must’ve gone.

 I would lean my head against her fur collar as we came home from the airport,  trying to avoid the scratchy wool coat. It was cold, and it smelled like mothballs. I remember going to sleep with her sitting by my bed and singing the old songs, one after the other.

I felt safe those nights, and I think they were held safe by her presence. She represented moments of respite in a very confusing world.  

In later years, the tables turned. She had followed us to Arizona. I stayed to graduate with my class when my family moved to Canada. I was left with the car, weeks away from my 16th birthday. The agreement was that I would visit my grandmother once a week, and put $.10 a mile in a jar. I started out doing it out of compulsion. Very quickly, a deep friendship grew.

I would surprise her with Kentucky fried chicken and Mountain Dew. She would make waffles for dinner, and fill them with every mix in imaginable. I would bring my textbooks and study. And somewhere in the evening I would take out her old hymnal and sing. All the verses, one song after another. She would join in, her voice quivering.

There were many years where it was hard to sing those old songs as I wrestled with the reality of my childhood contradictions and violence. They are being redeemed one by one. The truth contained in the ancient words still calls to my spirit.

I walked the dark street tonight with my pug, singing this song. If the neighbors could hear, they might have wondered. They don’t know that a story continues to be written, co-authored by God. 

It is the story of an old woman and a little girl, a story of music in the night.

Coming home

A daughter came home today. I watched for her face in a crowd of strangers. I strained to see her, the anticipation rising in my soul. I felt the sheer delight burst through my spirit as I saw her, and hugged her tight.

I saw a friend once, so precious to my heart, moments after she passed into the Mystery. Her face held that same longing, that delight, like she had just seen someone for whom she had been longing all her life.

I just finished re-reading Frederick Beuchner’s A Sacred Journey:  “we must learn to listen to the cock crows and hammering and tick-tock of our lives for the holy and elusive word that is spoken to us out of their depths.” 

There was a moment when we were all sitting and braiding hair this weekend, a mother and two of her daughters. And for an elusive breath of time I saw the holy.