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So as we wait in the quiet winters of our lives—not only this season of Advent, but also this time of COVID, or whatever winters we are currently experiencing—we have to keep the light of hope burning in our hearts. God will keep his promises to us.

Just as he said.

Over the summer, my parents spent 78 days on the road with their dog and their RV. When they returned, my mom had soreness in her ribs that she thought was the result of slamming the bed lid on my dad’s truck one too many times.

But it didn’t get better and an xray finally showed that she had 3 broken ribs. It seemed odd that slamming the bed lid could break ribs, so she had a bone scan. She was diagnosed with osteopenia a few years back, which is the precursor to osteoporosis, so we worried that she may have finally crossed that line. But the scan came back ok.

The morning after Thanksgiving, she got up to use the restroom and threw out her back. When the pain, exacerbated by her ribs,  didn’t subside, my dad called an ambulance. New xrays showed that she hadn’t thrown out her back—she had cracked a vertebra.

I never bought the story that the cracked ribs came from shutting the bed lid. I suspected the dog—Maggie is 18 months old and full of life, and my mom walked her 4 times a day. I was sure that Mom tripped over Maggie on a walk and fell—but didn’t want to tell anyone. Maggie is the light of their retired lives, the newest baby in the family. Mom would want to protect her.

The orthopod said that he could do a simple procedure to glue the cracked vertebra together. That happened the first Friday in December. He didn’t like what he saw and took a biopsy. The following week she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. This is how I explained it to my kids: MM is a cancer of the bone marrow that affects the parts of our bones that scrub old bone away and grow new bone. The part that scrubs old bone away becomes over-active and the part that builds new bone is suppressed by the cancer cells, making it possible to crack ribs from shutting the bed lid on the truck. Apologies to Maggie.

She is in the midst of diagnostic testing, while recovering from her back surgery and waiting for her ribs to heal—something that may not happen until treatment brings the bone scrubbers and bone growers back into balance. That’s a hard thought for everyone, because her pain is significant, and hard to watch. I have to be careful around her, because as a survivor, I want to tell her All The Things I Learned, but I know that’s not right. It’s her path. She has to walk it her way. She witnessed for me. Now I witness for her.

I didn’t get around to weeks 2, 3 and 4 of Advent, obviously. I took my girls south last week and we helped care for Grandma once she got home. When I came back here today to tell you where I went, Hope, Justified was the first thing I saw. I laughed. God does not always move in mysterious ways. Sometimes he moves in giant highway signs that say “For hope, please refer back to your own damn words”. All right, then. Winter has come, but my hope and faith are secure. I know there is a tightly woven blanket of love around our family, and good doctors, and my mom’s own strong body and mind. And I know I can ask you to pray for her, for relief from her pain and for healing.

Merry Christmas, friends. Here comes the Light.

A Holy Family

Last Thursday night, Shea and I went on a date. We had dinner and then we hit Barnes and Noble to spend a gift card.

On our way out, a man approached us cautiously and asked for money. He said “We need gas to drive to Eugene.” I looked in the car behind him and saw a woman.

I knew I had some cash in my purse and as I rummaged for it, I took in the details: the man who could not look me in the eye, his pride coming off him in waves. The car stuffed with clothes and Dollar Store bags.

And in the backseat, a baby.

“You have a wee bit,” I said, surprised.

“Yeah,” he said. “My son. The shelters are full in Medford, and Grants Pass too. That’s why we have to get to Eugene.”

They turned away a baby, I thought. I offered him all the money I had, which just happened to be more than usual.

He didn’t want to take it. “It’s too much.”

“Eugene is a long way,” I told him.

That was the first time he looked me in the face. “God bless you.”

And then they left.

I told my mom when we got home and the next day she said “It makes me think of that picture you posted on Facebook.”

Maybe you saw it. It’s called “Jose y Maria” by Everett Patterson.

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Two years ago our priest told us at Christmas Mass that while Christmas is such a special and precious celebration, we make a mistake if we leave the Baby in the manger. He grew up to be the Savior of the world. He is with us.

I think we make a mistake if we leave Joseph and Mary in the manger. They looked poor and alone that night and not like they were carrying the Son of God.

If we look around we can see that they are with us too.

 

 

 

Merry Christmas

 

 

You guys, I have shown you my very cool Advent calendar: A magnetic nativity scene where each day the kids open the door and place another character into the picture.

Do you know that in the middle of my prayerful and restful Advent, my oldest and youngest child were doing their best to block the baby Jesus spot so that the middle child would have nowhere to put him?

They are 10, 8 and 4. They know what the manger scene is supposed to look like. And they know what they are about. And yes, I did have to settle an argument between them about whether the sheep will have to make way for the baby in the hay.

And by “settle”, I mean threaten to take the calendar down and cancel Christmas.

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Do you see how they played a twisted kind of Nativity Risk?

You know me, though. And how much I like my metaphors. So here’s one for you to hold on to these last 48 hours.

What makes my Nativity scene holy is not that the main players are perfectly placed–but that they are there in that place, floating Wise Man and Fallen Star alike, celebrating the birth of the Lord (who, in our version, may float in his trough above the manger).

Same thing with the next 48 hours. Whatever you are trying to pull off, success is not what will make it holy.

Presence will make it holy.

Good luck my friends, and have yourselves a Merry Christmas.

Get ‘er Done

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You know we like Advent over here.

But every year we buckle down to observe the holy heck of out Advent and we notice that the crap still creeps in.

Like Tuesday I’m sitting on my yoga mat before class, meditating (aka: trying to talk myself out of bailing and going for coffee) and I can’t help but hear the conversations around me that all sound like this:

“I have SO MUCH TO DO. There are not enough hours in the day. Not enough days in the month. Every year I tell myself I’m going to start early and I never do.”

We have all felt that. I have felt that. But that’s not how we should feel this time of year.

So here’s your pep talk.

This weekend, this one starting right now—Purchase. Wrap. Use Amazon Prime and Ebates to do it from the cushy, warm comfort of your couch plus free shipping and cash back. It doesn’t have to be wrapped nicely. It just has to be wrapped. You don’t need cute gift tags. A folded over square of paper works just fine.

Get ‘er done.

Decorate. We got our tree in the parking lot at the mall and I don’t even care. Last year we did the big family haul to the woods to cut it down in the wild. It was the most giant cluster ever. This tree is shorter and skinny, which means the kids could reach it. There are lights and ornaments. The end. The tree does not have to be a work of art.

Get ‘er done.

Sit down with the remote. Search up all your favorite holiday movies and set them to record. Roll through Freeform to find the kids’ favorites. One night two weeks from now when you have reached the breaking point you will be able to yell “GO WATCH TV! And don’t come back until you’ve watched Prep and Landing and Prep and Landing Two TWICE.” Then you can open a nice bottle of wine and catch up on your favorite A Christmas Carol. May I suggest Alistair Sim, although Captain Picard will work too.

Just get ‘er done. A few days of nose to the grindstone now will help you create the sacred space you need later to be calm and present. We’ll need our wits about us for the hard parts. And there are always hard parts. For lots of reasons.

But let’s don’t let one of those reasons be because we left it all so late that we didn’t have time to breathe.

We can do this. We can get ‘er done.

 

 

Free Range Christmas Trees

“Let’s get a tree!” I said.

Shea looked at me warily. “Same place as last year?”

“No! For five bucks we can cut it down ourselves out in the woods. Just think of it, honey! A FREE RANGE Christmas tree!”

Saturday we were out the door by 9:15 am. Saw? Check. Permit? Check. Rope? Check.

Coat for Annie? Not so much. Although we didn’t figure that out until we pulled into the deserted, icy barely plowed campground at Fish Lake.

Twenty miles in was when I decided I would read the Bureau of Land Management rules for cutting down a tree in the wild. It’s pretty simple—you just have to keep the numbers 200 and 12 in your head: 200 feet from the nearest road. 200 feet from a lake. 200 feet from a campground. 200 feet from the river. No more than 12 feet from the nearest tree. No more than 12 feet high. And no more than a 12 inch stump left over.

All good.

But then there was this:

With forecasts for this winter predicting colder temperatures and above average precipitation, it’s as important as ever to prepare for the unexpected when looking for your holiday tree. Bring a handsaw or axe as well as winter clothing and safety equipment. Tire chains and a shovel are recommended, as is extra food, drinking water, blankets, a flashlight, first aid kit and survival gear. Tree cutting and travel may take longer than anticipated, so notify a friend or family member where you’re going, get an early start, and leave the woods well before dark.

We had two of those things. TWO. And this was before I knew that we forgot Annie’s coat.

Huh. But I wasn’t about to turn down the Morman Tabernacle Choir to spread fear and anxiety, so on we drove into the great white wilderness, ill-equipped but optimistic.

We found this:

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Gorgeous. It wasn’t too cold, right at freezing, so Annie wore Kate’s coat, Kate wore mine, I wore Shea’s and Shea sucked it up. We spent 45 minutes “searching” for a tree, which looked a lot like snowballs fights and snow angels and picture taking.

Then we got serious.

We discovered that a lot of free range trees are actually one sided, which works for us in this house because the tree goes against a wall. I liked the white pine trees—very Sundance catalog and since our house has a craftsman vibe, I knew we could make it work. Shea stood next to the tree we picked and stuck his hand up—the tree was probably right at 12 feet tall. We followed the directions with the stump, cut the tree down in two shakes and carried it back to the car.

We headed ten more miles down the road to Lake of the Woods resort, where we had a fabulous lunch at the grill and made reservations to camp in June.

Then we drove the 44 miles home with the tree. That’s it—44 miles. It’s still a small miracle to me that wild Christmas trees can be found that close to home.

This is what it looked like in the driveway.

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“Dang,” I said to Shea. “It looks bigger now.”

“Yeah.”

So I took the big shears and trimmed the tree back at least a foot around the bottom.

“How much room do we have at the bottom?” I asked.

“Sixty inches.”

“How much room at the top”

“Oh, the height is not the problem.”

“Well, let’s bring it in and then I can trim more if I need to.”

So before you see this picture there are a few things you need to understand in terms of perspective.

  1. The black entertainment center is 8 feet tall.
  2. The couch is a 5 full feet away from the wall and four feet away from the TV.

Ok, you ready?

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And clearly there’s not plenty of room at the top.

I laughed until tears ran down my face. Then I texted one of my Oregon natives and told her the tree grew four feet on the drive home. “Do you know how many times that happened to us growing up?!!” she texted back. “They do look smaller in the wild!”

We went out the next day and got a 9 footer from a lot. For comparison’s sake, here’s a side-by-side of the two trees.

On Saturday night I went to a mom’s night out. As I was recounting our successful-ish tree hunting story, one of the moms asked which road we took.

“We were going to take the 234, but we ended up taking the 140”.

The mom next to me snickered and rolled her eyes.

“What?” I poked her arm.

THE 234??? THE 140??? You Californians and your “the”. It’s just 234 and 140.”

I rolled me eyes at her and one of the other moms, a fellow transplant said “Your California is showing”.

In more ways than one, my new friends. In more ways than one.