On the New Year, Autism, and Thanks, Anyway

Dec 31 2016

I gave my nephew, KG, a frog book for Christmas. He did not want a frog book. I knew in advance he didn’t want a frog book. I gave him the frog book anyway (though it was supplementary to another gift I gave him I knew he’d want, so I’m not a total monster).

KG is in second grade, has autism, and also has 100,000 allergies to All the Things, so he’s our bubble boy. He’s not like the kid who gets a tummy ache from dairy. He’s the kid who ends up in the ambulance and the hospital and sometimes the Pediatric ICU because he stops breathing, even though we have a strict NO NOT-BREATHING ALLOWED rule in our family. He’s the kid we wildly celebrate because he’s a survivor and that status can’t be taken for granted for him like we do with the rest of our kids.

We love KG for lots of reasons. Obviously. And I sort of feel like I’m supposed to say we love him in spite of his autism, except I feel like the truth is we love him in part because of it. We love his brain. We love his quirks. We love that he’s inspirationally truthful. We feel on a deep level there are lessons we can learn from him about authenticity, and self-advocacy, and eschewing our collective cultural bullshit, and unapologetic honesty.

KG opened his frog book present at Christmas, and his shoulders slumped in defeat. “NOT A FROG BOOK,” he said, because he detested it.

His daddy, my brother, said, “Nope, KG. What do we say when we get a gift?”

“Oh, yeah,” said KG, as he looked at me with sorrowful eyes, “Thanks, anyway, Auntie Beth.”

Total Eeyore voice. Absolute melancholy. Working to be grateful anyway.

“Thanks, anyway, Auntie Beth.”

I would like to only give gifts to people with autism in the future, please, or to people who have learned from them, because they’re my favorite. They can learn to be polite when necessary, but they’re also not going to pretend a situation, even one requiring gratitude for the sake of social nicety, is OK. Frog books suck. Let’s not pretend otherwise. But thanks, anyway.

This is exactly how I feel about 2016.

2016 sucked, collectively if not personally. Let’s not pretend otherwise. But thanks, anyway.

Thanks, anyway, for the horrible frog book, 2016.

My sister-in-law, KG’s mama, told this story earlier this year when he was on steroids following another spell of Not Breathing:

When a small person is on this amount of steroids, it means more of EVERYTHING.

The day following anaphylaxis, KG and I stopped to get gas on our way to see the doctor, and had the car turned off with the windows down. While we were fueling up, a Beekeeper, wearing full beekeeping gear including the hat/mask, pulled up in the lane right next to us.

Seizing the teaching opportunity, I point out our fuel companion to KG. “Buddy, look over there! A beekeeper! Check it out! Look at the gear he wears to work with bees!” My announcement was met with total silence (which can be a side effect from the massive amounts of medications). Undeterred, I tried again– “KG, did you see? Look over on your side– a beekeeper!”

My inquiry was met with yelling, through the open window, with the power of a thousand fiery suns. “I hate you! I hate YOU! I hate you, BEEKEEPER! I! HATE! YOUUUUU, BEEKEEPER! You steal from BEES! You STEAL! From BEES! THIEF! THIEFFFFFFFFFF! Beekeeper, I. HATE. YOU!!!!!!”

Despite my direct commands to knock off the yelling, it continued. Until the tank was full. (This felt like an eternity, but was likely a minute or two.) Driving away, with the windows safely secured in the upright position, I asked KG what in the world happened back at the gas station. He shared a righteous anger that a person in a position of power would take advantage of the smaller, lesser creature, that the beekeeper would selfishly steal all the hard work of the bees, and explained how this was a justice issue that concerns everyone.

I explained to KG how Beekeepers are actually the biggest advocates and defenders of bees, how bees are rapidly going extinct, and how the efforts of beekeepers are what sustain the bee population. We discussed how the beekeeping/bee relationship is symbiotic, especially considering protections needed/offered during winter and from predators.

He took in all of this new information. Completely unaffected (and unashamed), he replied “Oh. I was not aware of this.”

These adventures brought to you by Autism on steroids.

I don’t know about you, but 2016 has me feeling a little strung out. A little like yelling out the window and lashing out. A little relieved we get to drive away now from 2016 which was a THIEFFFFFFFFFF for so many millions who lost their homes, their countries, their babies, their lives. And from 2016 which may have been good in some ways I’m not yet ready to acknowledge.

May we learn a lesson from my nephew, though, as we head into the New Year; to champion important causes, to understand WE are one of the important causes, to be honest, to be grateful even if we have to do it reluctantly, to give no time to things that don’t matter (like stupid frog books), to be open to new information when we can listen again, and to be unashamed because we are, after all, wildly, wonderfully, weirdly, perfectly made.

Wishing you and yours a wonderful New Year,

 

 

P.S. I DID give KG his real gift later — Pokemon plushies — which met with his enthusiastic approval. May 2017 learn THAT’S how it’s done. 😉

(This is the niece and nephews posing with the things I got them that they actually liked. Notice there’s not a frog book to be found. Hehehe. KG is the one pointing to Evie.)
(Also, yes. Yes, I did get that hideous golden lion necklace thing for my oldest nephew. He wanted it, and I’m a sucker.)

 P.S.S.My mom left her computer open HAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

Cai

Carrie Fisher Drowned in Moonlight, Strangled by Her Own Bra: 10 Things to Do about 2016, 2017 and Beyond

Dec 28 2016

Carrie Fisher died, drowned in moonlight, strangled by her own bra. The media is reporting it as a massive heart attack, but we know better because Carrie told us so.

If I’m going to be perfectly honest, I’m seriously bummed by Carrie’s death, but not desolate or overwhelmed. I liked Carrie Fisher very much. I love that she was wildly herself. I love that she learned to find humor in the madness of life. I love that she was honest about her addictions. I love that she was fierce and free and believed a good story could change the world. I’m also grateful that neither outright addiction nor mental illness took her in the end. That may sound strange or even callous, but those of us with mental illness always wonder whether it will triumph; whether it will be the one holding our hand while we drift away. That she died of a heart attack drowning in moonlight, strangled by her own bra? I kind of feel like Carrie won. Like she’s gone far too soon AND like she flipped mental illness the bird on her way out. Both/And, friends. Both/And.

I also feel like 2016 can bite me.

I just read an NPR article by Sam Sanders that 2016 maybe wasn’t all that bad. And I get what he’s saying, from an individualist, American-centric, privileged perspective, which he names outright in the article. But from a global perspective? With the largest displaced-people crisis the world has ever known? And war and chaos, unkindess and uncertainty? And even from an American perspective if we care about the marginalized, vulnerable and disenfranchised among us who feel more vulnerable than ever? Nope. All due respect, Mr. Sanders, but 2016 can totally suck it. 

We are in collective mourning for the state of our world and for the loss of our storytellers, and our oracles, and our sense-makers, and our truth-sayers. Whether we experienced those losses personally or not, it is right to grieve. The “I” may not be worse off after this year, but the “we” certainly is, and thank God we still know to lament that loss as a community.

I left my computer at work last night and realized it 25 minutes later, when I was almost home, so when I finally walked in the door after an additional round-trip to my office, to piles of mail, and half-eaten bowls of cereal littering the kitchen table, and boys squawking over who was cheating at Exploding Kittens (Hint: everyone. EVERYONE WAS CHEATING), and every surface covered with goo and gunk, I was more than done. I wanted food, a beer, my bathtub, and to be magically thin and fit in my jeans and still eat all the cheese; all of which were equally unrealistic in the moment.

I don’t know, you guys; it’s just, it’s the tail end of 2016 and I falsely thought, “IT’S ALMOST OVER; SURELY THE WORST HAS HAPPENED,” and then Christmas came and George Michael died, and after Christmas Carrie Fisher died. By last night, I was all, “WTF, 2016! BITE ME,” except I whispered that very quietly because I believe 2016 might ACTUALLY materialize in horrific semi-human form to bite me FOR REAL.

I tried to write last night but I gave up because I was too busy pulling the covers over my head and wondering if I could talk my kids into bringing me water and toast (read: beer and cheese) for four more days until the New Year because the only thing that made sense for the remainder of this fully effed up year was HIDING and praying the Lord Jesus comes quickly and TAKES US ALL TO GLORY. COME, LORD JESUS and take us to Glory where we can hang out with Mr. Michael; Ms. Fisher; Alan Rickman who will sit by a roaring fire in a worn, leather, wing-back chair and read the Harry Potter books in all the voices; Richard Adams who will follow Mr. Rickman to read from Watership Down; Leonard Cohen who will remind us there are Hallelujahs, somehow, everywhere; John Glenn who will tell tales of the cosmos; and Gwin Ifill; and David Bowie; and Gene Wilder; and R2-D2; and my friend Krissi’s daddy; and Prince; and Doris Roberts who I suspect would’ve been fun to get a drink with; and Muhammad Ali; and Nancy Reagan who taught me the power of NO, although never to drugs, because, in a grand disappointment, no one ever offered them to me like she practically promised they would; and Patty Duke; and Pat Summitt who was an unapologetic badass; and Harper Lee; and, the ones that most catch me in my throat and heart and soul, the kids like my friend Sue’s sweet boy who left so young and far too soon; and the precious ones we lost who are LGBTQ, like Molly Woolsey, who couldn’t bear to stay in our unkind world filled with people who say they love their neighbors but only do it with words and stipulations.

Yes, I tried to write last night, but ghosts of 2016 surrounded me, and I had to mourn for a little while without words.

And then I checked the mail and found a package. A surprise present from my friend, Matthew, who is beautiful and a Light Bringer and rad.

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Which I sort of feel like is a present for all of us because it’s an icon of St. Jude, the Patron Saint of Chaos and Impossible Causes, and I can think of little more important right now, in the waning days of 2016, than the reminder that just because things are impossible is no reason to give up. I mean, yes; we can give up for a little while. I’m a big fan of giving up temporarily. But over the long term, we hope anyway. And we love each other. And we rest as long as we need. And we hold hands in the dark and whisper to each other that dawn is coming eventually. And then we fight like hell and tackle the world and are fierce, unapologetic badasses who, like Leia Organa, lead the resistance. That is how this is going to work. That is how we’re going to make it through 2016. That is how we’re going to approach 2017 and beyond. 

  1. Things are impossible.
  2. We don’t give up.
  3. Except for a little while.
  4. After we’re done giving up, and even though we’re in the middle of unbelievable chaos, we hope anyway.
  5. We LOVE each other. No stipulations.
  6. We rest as long as we need, sitting in the muck and the mud and mire, knowing magic is there, too.
  7. We hold hands in the dark.
  8. We whisper dawn is coming.
  9. We fight like hell because we are fully fierce and free.
  10. We lead the resistance. 

And then we do it all again.

And again.

And again.

img_3140My family is celebrating Hanukkah this year. I’m hoping those of you who are Jewish don’t feel I’ve co-opted your religion and culture for my own ends; it’s just that I rather desperately need to celebrate the miracle of Light, which always comes in the darkness and just when we’re sure there’s no fuel to provide it. We have no Hanukkah candles, though my mama bought me a lovely menorah, so we’re using birthday candles which keep falling over, making the Festival of Light a fire hazard which somehow seems fitting for our family, like every Christmas Eve when they give my children candles at church and I spend the whole time singing Silent Night — all the verses — hoping we won’t burn the church down.

It’s just… I need Light this year. 2016 has been a weird one. Politically, yes. Religiously, yes. Deathly, yes. And also personally. Our oldest son melted down over the summer. Fully and completely. Nearly needing institutionalization, though whether the person institutionalized was going to be me or my child was very much up in the air. Chaos and Impossible Causes, both of us; so much potential, so much heart, so much desire for better days and healthier brains, and so little knowledge for how to get there. And here we are at the end of the year with some things better and some things still mired in impossible chaos, because we are human, which is to say, we are divine, made in God’s own image, full of light yet also full of darkness. Both/And all the time. Full of grace, which is a state of being both lost and found at once.

And so I sign off for now.

Fiercely, impossibly, chaotically yours… and still whispering that the dawn is coming,

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P.S. TWO MORE THINGS, friends…

  1. During the chaos of summer, while everything was falling fully apart, I quit my beloved job at Medical Teams International, a humanitarian aid organization that provides medical and dental care, humanitarian aid, and holistic development programs to people in need around the world. Humanitarian aid work is my first love and where I thought I’d spend my life, so quitting the job, even for all the right reasons, including my child’s sanity and my own, as well as the plan to pursue writing “THE BOOK,” was full of grief. The right thing, for sure; also, hard. However, the CEO of Medical Teams, Martha Newsome, invited me to stay on in a temporary capacity focused on communications, and next week I’ll be traveling with her to Uganda where Medical Teams is responding to the overwhelming needs of South Sudanese refugees, mostly women and children, fleeing the war in their home country. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees asked Medical Teams International to provide medicines and doctors for new camps right now so more refugees can survive; MTI, of course, has stepped up to the task. While I typically try to separate my writing here with my work for Medical Teams, entirely because I want to protect Medical Teams’ reputation and I’m not sure my mouthy, progressive, push-the-envelope self is the very best way to deliver their message, I’ll be sharing my trip to Uganda with you because I know so many of you, like me, are eager for stories of hope and ways we can help. As I find out, so shall you; honestly, I can’t imagine going without you.
  2. sealrock1If you are in need of respite — a time to relax, or work on a project, or be with friends from this community in a gorgeous environment where my friend Maggie will make your food and serve you wine — we are opening up the additional spots at January’s Magic in the Mess retreat for anyone who would like to come. While this is billed as a writing retreat (and still will be — there are writers and wonderful instructors coming), there are 5 spots available for people who just want to come for respite! The writers will be taking two 3-hour blocks of quiet writing time every day, so there will be times of extended quiet; the rest of the day, while writers have their small group sessions, are free for us to explore, hang out, walk on the beach, hot tub, sit by the fire, etc. The dates are January 19-23, and you can find more information here. Please come; I’d love to hang out with you. 

The Longest Night

Dec 21 2016

I yelled at my husband this morning but not at my children which means I only yelled at 17% of my household and therefore have an 83%, or B grade, which is not an A but is definitely above average. This is why math matters, friends; so we can assess how much, exactly, we’re screwing it up. This is also the best argument I know for having too many children; even if you wreck it just completely with one of them, chances are you can still squeak out an overall win in the percentages.

In my defense, Greg didn’t do a small thing he assured me he would do, by 9:30am exactly, which I’d told him was important to me, which means Greg is human and fallible, which is a crux of All Marital Issues, large and small, which sucks. Unfortunately, another crux of All Martial Issues, and All Relationships in General, is How We Respond to the ways we are disappointed and hurt. I usually pick Lashing Out and Being Mouthy and Overreacting in the Tiniest, Most Adorable Ways, minus being either tiny or adorable, which turns out Not to Improve Things but makes me feel better in the moment, same as bacon or cheese or perfectly crunchy toffee with a thin, chocolate coating that crumbles and dissolves on my tongue. I might regret it later, but at the time? It’s the best thing I know. I’d like to apologize to Greg, but I know my apology will be sullen because the only genuine apology I can offer is, “I’m sorry for the way I reacted to you not doing the thing you knew you needed to do, which you agreed to do, which seemed small to you but which was important to me, about which I proactively communicated to avoid this very situation,” which doesn’t seem particularly helpful at this time.

Today is December 21st, the Winter Solstice, the Longest Night of the Year for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, and I am weary, friends. I am tired. I am heavy laden.

img_2939I has been Quite a Year.

And, though he was an easy target today, it’s not Greg. Of course it’s not.

It’s All the Things we’ve individually and collectively carried that are simply too much. Too huge. Too overwhelming to bear. Loss. Grief. Uncertainty. Illness. Unkindness. Helplessness. Fear for ourselves and mostly for others who are more vulnerable and have less margin to lose.

It’s been a Dark Night this year. A long, dark night. We’ve been waiting in the darkness for dawn to come, and, frankly, hope isn’t easy this year.

And yet, the Longest Night has come anyway. Like Good Friday, which is less about what’s good and more about bearing witness to the dark, and sitting in the pain, and seeing the sacrifice before we know for certain whether it will matter in the end. The Longest Night and Good Friday come, whether we’re ready or not.

And so we sit tonight, together. Holding hands. Waving in the dark. For a very long time. While hope is just a whisper we long to grow louder.

Sending you love, friends, and the blessing below on this long night,

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Blessing for the Longest Night
by Jan Richardson

All throughout these months
as the shadows
have lengthened,
this blessing has been
gathering itself,
making ready,
preparing for
this night.

It has practiced
walking in the dark,
traveling with
its eyes closed,
feeling its way
by memory
by touch
by the pull of the moon
even as it wanes.

So believe me
when I tell you
this blessing will
reach you
even if you
have not light enough
to read it;
it will find you
even though you cannot
see it coming.

You will know
the moment of its
arriving
by your release
of the breath
you have held
so long;
a loosening
of the clenching
in your hands,
of the clutch
around your heart;
a thinning
of the darkness
that had drawn itself
around you.

This blessing
does not mean
to take the night away
but it knows
its hidden roads,
knows the resting spots
along the path,
knows what it means
to travel
in the company
of a friend.

So when
this blessing comes,
take its hand.
Get up.
Set out on the road
you cannot see.

This is the night
when you can trust
that any direction
you go,
you will be walking
toward the dawn.

© Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com

I Have a Kid Home From College: Here’s What I’ve Learned the First 3 Days

Dec 19 2016

I have a kid home from college for the very first time. It’s been 3 days. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

1. The Freshman Fifteen is a real thing. Unfortunately, there’s a little known Freshman Fifteen sub-clause which states that if the freshman neglects to gain it herself, her mother has to do it for her, which I have dutifully done. (NOTE: She and I are not finished discussing the importance of her doing her own work in the future.)

2. Be grateful for ANY AND ALL COMMUNICATION, no matter how pathetic. Listen; she’s been away and on her own for several months. She’s used to doing what she wants when she wants to do it. She’s been putting up with your constant, helpful texts, reminding her, for example, NEVER TO DO CRACK. Now’s your chance to pay her back for her patience by not losing your ever-loving crap when you ask her for information and she says “unknown.”

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3. Set clear, but reasonable rules like NO DYING and NO GOING MISSING. 

 

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She will agree because you are being reasonable, and then — BONUS — you get to punish her if she ever does die or goes missing.

4. Admit when you’re being a freaking freaker who freaks. Like when you wake up gasping and sweating at 1:15am and wondering where the hell your kid — who told you she would be at “unknown” with “unknown” — is.

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5. Do not correct her grammar, even when she uses your instead of you’re. It’s petty and not worth it, and she’s a grown-up and can use the wrong form if she wants. Besides, 20 years from now, your and you’re will be interchangeable. Language is evolutionary, after all; it’s supposed to shift, and this is how it happens. IT’S OK.

6. Be open to learning new things; even if the new things are things you maybe should have known all along.

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And 7. When your kid ultimately responds with the inevitable, disdainful OMG, retaliate with that grammar thing.

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Sure, it’s totally immature, but it FEELS SO GOOD, and, as Debby Boone always says, it can’t be wrong when it feels so right. (That kid, though; she lights up my life.)

Sincerely yours,

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P.S. I COULD HAVE BEEN TRACKING HER ALL ALONG. Why is there no one guiding me through this mom thing?? I am clearly ill equipped to be making this up on my own. :/

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My Posture is Bad, It’s Because of Aleppo, and Some Thoughts on the Lamb of God

Dec 15 2016

My posture is bad, and it’s because of Aleppo.

Every time I try to straighten up, my shoulders hunch forward again a few seconds later, and I want to fall face first onto my desk and quit. Done, please. I’d like to be done with an unkind world that harms the vulnerable. I’d like to create a new one, instead, based on sanctuary and refuge and, damn it, on LOVE; I’m just not sure how to go about it.

Please understand, I’m not saying in any way that my posture matters in comparison with the devastation and despair in Syria. With lives destroyed. With everything undone. With evil running rampant. I’m just saying I’m watching and reading, and I’m caving in on myself, literally. Like my spirit can’t take it, and my body is, like, “RIGHT THERE WITH YOU, SPIRIT. SLOUCHING IN SOLIDARITY.”

We’re in a long, dark night of our collective humanitarian soul, and I feel helpless right now. We’re in the middle of the biggest refugee crisis the world has ever known — a crisis expected to grow — and more countries than ever are closing borders, electing isolationist demagogues (not to call names, but “ISOLATIONIST DEMAGOGUES!”), and pursuing policies that promote fear and xenophobia rather than loving our neighbors as ourselves. Ugh, friends. Ugh, ugh and ugh. Our momrades in Syria and Yemen and South Sudan are living every parent’s worst nightmare, and I’m busy making chicken and rice casserole for dinner and intermittently texting my college student to remind her never to do crack. “NEVER DO CRACK, Abby,” I text, not because I actually think she’ll do it, but because I dreamt she did and blew out a vein, and it’s a totally legit mommy thing to text your kid occasional, out-of-context DO NOT DO CRACK reminders when you’re worried about Aleppo. Right? Right. This makes sense, and I am completely sane.

Dark nights of the collective soul, friends; WE ARE IN THEM. Again. Still. In a world full of disaster and conflict. Suffering and inequity. And so we wait for the dawn. Again. Still. Believing daylight is coming. Or holding that hope for each other when we cannot hold hope for ourselves. Because let’s be honest; sometimes hope is slippery and hard to cling to.

…..

I stole my child’s toy as our Christmas tree topper, several years ago now, and I don’t plan to give it back.

This has nothing to do with Aleppo, but it seems right to put it here, so here it shall go.

It’s strange how traditions begin.

img_2736When I was a kid, we always had a drummer boy as our Christmas tree topper. He’s cardboard and cylindrical, possibly made out of a toilet paper tube, and he has a tuft of gold tinsel that flares at his feet. I don’t know his origins; I only know he’s the drummer boy and he ruled from atop our tree for the duration of my childhood, except for the year I found the penis warmer my mom knit my dad when they were newly-weds and replaced the drummer boy for a few weeks ’til Mom figured it out. So she had a few Bible studies at our house while the penis warmer was ensconced up there; no one DIED, Mom. 

Despite the fact that Greg and I tried a few angels at the top of our tree, and a star one year, nothing ever really stuck. Nothing was “our thing.” Nothing was the drummer boy. Or the penis warmer.

Until we accidentally stole the lamb.

img_2737It was a special gift for our middle child, made from felted wool by one of my besties, Melissa. She made it out of old sweaters the same year she made my twins little stuffed pigs, which are carefully preserved in their room.

I didn’t mean to steal the lamb. I especially didn’t mean to keep it. It’s just that there was a year when the dog absconded with it for the 40th time, and dragged it outside, and punctured its tail, and elongated its neck with all the chewing, and I had enough. Our tree was up. We hadn’t dug to the bottom of the boxes to find the angels. So I snagged that lamb to keep it out of the jaws of the dog, and I placed it on top of the tree and fell in love with it.

Now our Christmas tree topper is a lamb, impaled on a plastic tree.

I dunno. It seems somehow fitting. Not to take an analogy way too far, like I would ever, but do you ever feel like the Lamb of God is being impaled on plastic ideas of Christianity?

And yet, this lamb, which was made with Love from old, recycled garments, sewn by hand, and is beautiful and awkward and punctured and gangly, with its quizzical expression and odd sense of self, somehow gives me strange hope.

Like Love is paying attention to us despite the unseemly plastic all around.

Like what’s Weird and Aware and Authentic will triumph in the end over all the bullshit, theologically speaking, that we subject it to.

Like there’s a live and active Light that’s paying attention in the darkness. And like an Intentional Dawn will overcome the deep night.

Is that too much slippery hope to put into a stuffed toy? Too much slippery hope for an advent season that includes Aleppo?

Maybe.

Maybe it is.

Or maybe we need it more than ever.

Sending love, friends, and waiting with you in the dark for light on the horizon for all people,

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On Kids, Who Are Horrible and Holy, and Who Have Much to Teach Us in This Season

Dec 9 2016

Kids. They’re made out of SO MUCH HUMAN, friends. Horrible and holy. Awkward and awesome. Wild and weird and wonderful and ragged and radiant and full of rage and fire.

Yimg_2685eimg_2690simg_2682teimg_2683rdaimg_2680y was a snow day which is rare in our neck of the Oregon woods. I, of course, take these things completely in stride where “in stride” is defined as using ALL CAPS all over the Facebook to let everyone know the SNOW IS COMING and we should BE PREPARED with ALL THE TUBS OF CHEAP, PROCESSED COCOA MIX and that MY KIDS ARE TAKING A SNOW DAY whether the school district gives them one or not.

Snow days are my favorite. They’re a forced change from the bustle of winter. No sports. No events. No meetings. No homework. Nothing other than staying home and hunkering down and making a fantastic mess of the house and the floors and ruining the pristine blanket of white outside with muddy footprints and snow angels made from 47% snow and 53% gravel.

My 10 year olds were too excited to sleep the night before snow arrived, and too excited to stay asleep, and therefore only caught their zzzzzzs between 11pm-3am. Which means I only caught mine between 11pm-3am. 😳🙄

Nevertheless, we did All the Things.

  • We woke up too early. I complained about waking up too early.
  • We waited for snow because in Oregon we have snow days before snow actually arrives.
  • WE YELLED WHEN SNOW ARRIVED.
  • We insisted on the Facebook that we did, too, have snow, and we argued with our friends from Alaska, Idaho and Colorado about What Counts as Snow.
  • We wrapped the children in plastic bags and duct tape because there’s no way I’m buying snow gear for 5 children every year when we may get no snow at all and the snow we do get is likely to last 4 hours.
  • We made hot chocolate.
  • We spilled hot chocolate.
  • We made more hot chocolate.
  • We made snow cones out of SNOW.
  • We made popcorn.
  • We got the duct tape off the kid’s waist BEFORE he pooped his grandmother’s borrowed ski pants. FOR THE WIN!
  • We dealt with Major Meltdowns from children who got no sleep and played hard fueled mostly by adrenaline and sugar.
  • We were GRATEFUL FOR TEACHERS AND SCHOOL AND HOPE IT’S NOT FROZEN IN THE MORNING.
  • That last one was mostly me.
  • Also, I didn’t make dinner.
  • Also-also, I spent the rest of the evening hiding in the tub hoping no one could find me.

All in all, it was Snow Day perfection, surrounded by muck and mayhem, joy and delight, occasional bouts of rage and tears at snowballs packed too tight before they smashed into the faces of their intended targets, and children who are stunning and gorgeous and homely and wise and fragile and kind and cruel, all wrapped up together.

I intended to get Lots of Things done. To clean the kitchen between batches of warm beverages and crying, happy kids. To write. To bake. To bask in the bliss of silent snowfall. To finish the 17 piles of laundry. To not lose my poo, not even secretly on the inside. To wrap presents. To sing too loud to Pandora’s Pentatonix holiday station. But I managed none of those things. Not one.

And it was still perfect. By which I mean utterly imperfect and exactly right. Kids, friends. They are SO MUCH OF EVERYTHING, and they ended up around my table wiping their noses on their sleeves, bickering about how many rocks, exactly, were in the snowball, and who threw it in whose face on PURPOSE — full of “did not” and “did TOO” and “did NOT” and “I SAW YOU” — all while dripping giant puddles of snowmelt on the floor, shoving popcorn in each other’s faces, and making plans for an Even More Epic Snowball Battle to start in 5 minutes. I reminded them the Next Battle was likely to end in tears, same as the first, and they looked at each other like I was crazy. Not wrong, just crazy. “We know,” they said, with duh in their voices, “but it’s SO WORTH IT.” As though there are some things in life worth taking a rock to the face and worth the fighting and tears.

I have a feeling they’re right and that they know more about the cost of joy than I do.

This is a strange season we’re in. A season full of weird politics. A season of questioning where we belong, what we’ll cling to, and what we’ll discard. A season of joy. A season of taking rocks to the face. A season of full of “did not” and “did TOO” and “did NOT” and “I SAW YOU,” which happens in my kitchen and all over the Facebook. A season of remembering the refugee. A season of having a ragtag crew around the table and considering how to both invite people to that table AND take a less privileged seat at it. A season of considering who’s left out in the cold and how, exactly, to welcome people to the magic inside, knowing there’s a muddy, mangled mess here, too.

These days, I’m finding I’m only learning one thing at a time and that I can’t see the whole pathway forward. I can only barely make out the next step of learning to love my neighbor as myself and learning that everyone is my neighbor. But my one thing right now is to look to my kids and learn from their example. Because kids. They’re made out of SO MUCH HUMAN, friends. And so much of the divine. Horrible and holy. Awkward and awesome. Wild and weird and wonderful and ragged and radiant and full of rage and fire. Angry at taking rocks to the face. Eager to fight for justice. Willing to keep finding joy anyway.

And so, amen.

Sending love, friends, and wishes for snow days to come,

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P.S. For those of you southwest of Portland, Oregon — or who want to come from afar — I’m hosting Whiskey and Worship this Tuesday, December 13th. You can find all the details here. This is the first of what I hope will become a monthly event. Our goal is to create a safe and sacred space that is open, welcoming and affirming of all comers, focused only on corporately loving God no matter our definition of the Divine, loving each other, and loving our neighbors as ourselves. This is a space free of coercion and attempts at conversion, because gross. And, especially, this is a place to bring our whole selves — perfect, imperfect, messy, magical — understanding we are made in the very image of a God whose love for us, exactly as we already are, is endless.

The tavern is solely reserved for our group and use. Come at 7 to grab your drink and food and say hello. Nate Macy and Shawna Gordon will lead us in worshiping the Jesus we know and love starting at 7:30. I get not all y’all are Jesusy people — that’s, frankly, one of my favorite things about this space — but for those of you who are, and for those of you who are weary of the way the church has been acting more as gatekeeper than welcomer, this event is for you.

December Book Selection for A Likely Story Book Club

Dec 1 2016

Hi All!

It’s time to reveal the December book club selection for A Likely Story Book Club, the book club for escapist fiction fans.

Now, yes, I know we technically haven’t reviewed November’s book — or October’s book — but we’re going to forgive me for that because I’m still figuring out how this whole book club thing works, and also, I’m unreliable, which, if you’ve read anything here EVER, you already knew, so it’s kind of your fault if you had other expectations.

I’m going to try a new thing this month and post the review for last month (and maybe the month before… we’ll see how it goes) at the bottom of this post. So each new month’s book announcement will include the book review from the prior month, OK? OK. It’s a plan. Also, if you ever want to participate in the ongoing book discussions, feel free to join our book club page on the Facebook. All the cool kids are doing it.

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A Likely Story Book Club
Announcing: December’s Book Selection!img_2487

The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror
by Christopher Moore

‘Twas the night (okay, more like the week) before Christmas, and all through the tiny community of Pine Cove, California, people are busy buying, wrapping, packing, and generally getting into the holiday spirit.

But not everybody is feeling the joy. Little Joshua Barker is in desperate need of a holiday miracle. No, he’s not on his deathbed; no, his dog hasn’t run away from home. But Josh is sure that he saw Santa take a shovel to the head, and now the seven-year-old has only one prayer: Please, Santa, come back from the dead.

But hold on! There’s an angel waiting in the wings. (Wings, get it?) It’s none other than the Archangel Raziel come to Earth seeking a small child with a wish that needs granting. Unfortunately, our angel’s not sporting the brightest halo in the bunch, and before you can say “Kris Kringle,” he’s botched his sacred mission and sent the residents of Pine Cove headlong into Christmas chaos, culminating in the most hilarious and horrifying holiday party the town has ever seen.

Move over, Charles Dickens — it’s Christopher Moore time.

Unlike the other books in our escapist fiction club, I’ve actually read this book. Christopher Moore’s Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Jesus’ Childhood Pal is one of my all-time favorites; it’s very weird, it’s sacrilegious in all the best ways, it’s funny, and it somehow strangely honors Jesus’ example to us. The Stupidest Angel is what it advertises itself to be; an oddly heartwarming tale of murder and mayhem at Christmas. While Lamb remains my favorite of Moore’s books, The Stupidest Angel is an easy holiday read written in the bizarre tradition of the weird greats like Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett, and, honestly, I thought we could all use something weirdly wonderful.

Enjoy!

Love,

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November’s Book Review

The Girl Who Drank the Moon
by Kelly Barnhill

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OVERALL RATING: Using a rating scale of 1 to 5 — 1 being “this book is drivel; save yourself the time” and 5 being “this is one of my favorite books EVER, and I plan to read everything this author writes” — we rated A Girl Who Drank the Moon a collective 3.5. Cornelia Spoor rated this a 4: “4 despite the ways in which it was predictable – by the time I finished it, I was seeing it more as circularity than predictability. I would recommend it but I’m not sure *who* I’d recommend it to: my best thoughts are either a really avid young reader of any age who can manage a book of this length, and my brother & sister-in-law who are totally unembarrassed by crossing age categories in their reading. I think they’d love the poetic-ness and fairy tale-ness of it.”

thegirlwhodrankthemoonSUMMARY: Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the Forest, Xan, is kind. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon. Xan rescues the children and delivers them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey.

One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own . . .

DISCUSSION: In our A Likely Story Book Club Facebook group, we discussed the themes of adoption, spiritual context (which I didn’t expect in this book!), and the two characters who are the “Sorrow Eater” and the “Sorrow Avoider.”

I wrote, “The Girl Who Drank the Moon… discussion question #4. About the Sorrow Eater and Sorrow Avoider. Oh my gosh. This part of the book still has my brain wheels spinning, mostly because I am SUCH a Sorrow Avoider, you guys. I mean, I understand sorrow is part of life, and I even accept that I have to deal with it, but I’m not good AT ALL at that dealing. I do All the Things to Avoid Sorrow. I won’t read sad things for entertainment, no drama shows, no drama movies, no sad articles unless I plan to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. I overeat. I read vampire smut. I grind my teeth. Honestly, I sometimes feel like my whole life has been an exercise in Trying to Avoid Sorrow.

“So, obviously, a book with a main character, Xan, who can’t remember why she has to avoid sorrow and the place where sorrow grows, and who is so bent on avoiding that sorrow that she never, ever questions where the babies in the woods are coming from or why they’re there, is compelling to me. And then the Sorrow Eater, who buries her own sorrow deep in her heart and covers it with hardness and keeps covering it until she literally has to eat sorrow to survive is awful and fascinating to me.”

And I love this reminder by Carmen McAlister, which I’m going to leave you with because it’s the Very Best Reminder to me today and maybe to some of you, too…

“I appreciated that the opposite of sorrow wasn’t presented as joy, but HOPE. That’s more like pre-joy. Just imagining the possibility of joy some day is enough to thwart the sorrow eater.”

Pre-joy. I’ll take it, friends. I’ll totally take it. Hope on…

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