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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Cobbler

Can we start with this: On Christmas Eve, it snowed on our hill. Look at my babies. They have no idea what to do.

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On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: a dessert hack.

Our new home town is also home to Harry and David, gourmet grocers, famous for their Moose Munch and gift baskets. Their flagship store also has fresh groceries. Last week they had cherries for $2/lb. So I bought a bunch, thinking I would make some jam.

Then the kids started eating them.

A few days ago I put them away in an effort to save enough to make a cherry cobbler for Christmas dinner. I need to work on my hiding places, because yesterday morning there were twenty sad cherries in the bottom of the bowl.

What I did have in abundance was cranberries and tangerines. So I made up a citrus cranberry cherry cobbler, using the cobbler topping from my trusty BHG New Cookbook (the 1989 version, thank you very much). Super easy and delicious!

Ingredients:

Filling:

1 bag fresh cranberries

½ cup water

½ cup fresh squeezed tangerine juice (orange would work, too)

¾ cup sugar

Whatever cherries (or any other berries, fresh or frozen) you got, sister! Pit them, of course.

Topping:

1 cup flour

¼ cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon cinnamon

3 tablespoons butter

1 egg

3 tablespoons milk

Preheat oven to 400 F degrees.

Pop the cranberries, sugar, water and juice into a pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook until cranberries pop and break down into sauce, stirring occasionally, about ten minutes. Add cherries, and cook for a few more minutes, until the cherries begin to soften.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and cinnamon. Cut in the butter fork or pastry knife. Whisk milk and egg separately, then add to mixture, stirring just to combine

Pour hot fruit mix into an 8x8x2 baking dish. Crumble topping over mixture. Cook for 20 to 25 minutes, until crumble browns.

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I would normally serve this with homemade whopped cream, but since my Kitchenaid DIED on December 23 and the nearest service center is Portland–no, I can’t talk about it, hurts too much.

Ice cream would work too.

Dana and I hope you enjoy this Christmas season. We’ll see you again on Epiphany. In the meantime, happy New Year to you and yours. Be warm, be safe, be happy!

 

Come As You Are

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I’ve been trying to write this post about the Drummer Boy and folks who don’t go to church because they think they aren’t good enough.

It wasn’t working. I was trying too hard to say the right words.

So here are the true words instead.

My favorite Christmas song is “The Little Drummer Boy”. I like it because it’s a song for the outcasts. The message is “Forget what they say, come as you are, all are welcome, all are loved.”

In today’s church bureaucracy, twisted up around rules and platforms, the come as you are message sometimes gets squashed. It’s easy to believe, from the outside, that only the right people go to church.

Of course, this is a lie. I’m regularly inside a church, which should be enough to convince you that “perfect” and “church” are not hand-holding friends. My church is full of sinners. I know this because we make a confession of sins every single week. And get this: even the priest says it. Boom.

Still, folks hesitate at the doors. They stay behind while others head out for midnight Mass, joking behind their glass of wine about being “retired”.

Or they shake off the invitation to come along with a whispered “I couldn’t because of, you know….” The divorce. The addiction. The lifestyle. The third husband.

Or they are angry at the church for some (probably very good) reason.

I think that most of the time, what’s holding them back is the brick and mortar institution of church. Which can be daunting, judgmental and sometimes—yes, we have to admit it—destructive. Any church that drives people out instead of in is destructive to God’s will.

I get it. I have packed my bags and headed for the door in my faith life more than once.

But then someone always says to me “It’s not about the church. It’s about Jesus.”

And this stops me because I cannot imagine my life without Jesus. I have to come to Jesus, like that Drummer Boy, with nothing but my weaknesses, imperfections and sins, and find love. Without that soul shelter, I cannot continue to wife, mother, friend, function in this world.

Can I get an Amen from the choir?

Right. So here’s the thing—We have to tell the people in our life who hesitate outside the door that we go to church because we’re human and frail and sometimes we suck. We’re not good because we go. If we’re good, it’s because of the love that we find there.

And if you are one of those people, already dreading the Christmas Eve guilt trip and also secretly wishing you could swallow your pride and just go, remember this: There is nothing, nothing, nothing in your life that would make the Baby turn you away. Just come as you are. Bring what you have. Let the love heal you.

Merry Christmas from our families to yours.

We wish you health, peace and of course many, many graces!

A Season of Hope ~ Guest Post by Amy

Amy is how we all got to know Meg. We prayed for her health and then we prayed her through the door of this life into the next. Meg left behind a husband and two young girls, one only an infant. This is their first Christmas without their mama.

No doubt, Meg’s husband Sam will struggle as he learns to walk without his partner, juggling his grief with the responsibilities of his girls and the season. How hard it must be for him to find the light right now.

But Amy wants to share with us a story of how we don’t always have to find the light on our own.

Meg was an AVID coordinator in the Ontario Montclair school district. AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) is a national educational support program, designed for students who will be the first in their families to attend college. As coordinator, Meg was directly involved with the teachers and students, promoting a college education for all.

A few weeks ago, I attended a regional AVID training. Memories came crashing back: Last year when I was here we had just found out that Meg was diagnosed with breast cancer while pregnant with her second child.

Meg took off work to fight the disease with a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. She lost her hair so Sam shaved his off as well, in support.  By early summer, the doctors felt Meg was on the road to recovery. In July we celebrated the news that her PET scan was clean, showing no lesions.

Somehow, just six weeks later, she was sick again. She had lesions on her liver, which was swollen and losing function. The cancer was aggressive and untreatable.

By October, she was gone. Her daughters were four and six months old.

At the AVID training this year, her school site team, including Sam, wore pink shirts in honor of Meg. Every year, the region raffles gift baskets to raise AVID scholarship money. One of the baskets had a pink breast cancer theme, but all the money donated for this basket would go directly to Sam and his girls. Without hesitation, I dumped all my tickets in this basket.

The next morning, another coordinator stood at breakfast and announced a challenge: that every person in the room donate $1 for Sam and his girls. Sam was stunned. In tears, I made my way to his table and wrapped my arms around him. Together we watched.

In five minutes, people donated $1500.

Sam cried. I cried. Everyone in the place, 400 people, cried.

Miracles are real. This was a miracle. It wasn’t the miracle we had prayed for months earlier, to heal Meg and keep her here. Instead, the healing was for Sam, to show him that all is not lost. Meg had a hand in it, I know she did. She used all those people to give her husband a hug and remind him that people are good, the village is good. And there is light in the world for us when we need it.

Thank you to all those people who donated that day. It was about so much more than money. Thank you to Sam’s school, who love him and hold him up. Thank you to everyone who prayed for Meg. Thank you for reaching out in love and faith to strangers. I want you to know that it’s working. God’s hands are healing this family with love.

We have to remember that we are God’s work in this world. Happy weekend.

Meg and Sam

Meg and Sam