I always despair of the world returning to “normal” after Christmas time. I just love that, for a while, it seems as though beauty and magic are evident to all. It is unavoidable for a while, glowing on every street corner, in the stores, neighborhood, and from many homes, whether or not they are decorated on the outside. It feels easier to believe in the wondrous and in people’s ability to be awed by the world around them during the holidays. And, yes, I do mean all of them: Christmas, Hannukah, Solstice, Yule, Kwanzaa, etc. They all have to do with light, miracles, better things; and, for a little while, hope feels tangible.
The work of Christmas feels harder when the lights are dimmed and decorations put away for another year. However, I know that the work of Christmas continues, nevertheless. That work of bringing light and love, encouragement and edification to the world around me, that is my purpose. However, I find that I have felt disconnected from that purpose in a way recently. I feel it as I struggle with time and space for reflection, with late nights in the blue light of my computer screen as I grade, the days that fill with needs and responsibilities and small metaphorical fires to be put out. I find myself struggling for connection. Not just connection outward to others but also inward to my own gifts and ministries, namely words and writing. I miss it. I want that connection back. I want to think deeply about the things I hear, read, and experience, contemplating their place and effect on my life—what it is and what it shall be.
I am feeling tugs and pulls on my heart to even newer chapters within this new course of our life. It’s life-giving and terrifying. But I have been praying for God to prepare me for whatever He has next for me.
I want to reconnect. I do not know how much easier it will be this year than last, but I want to try. I want to get back to that place where I am tapped in, to myself, to God, to my purpose in this world. Because there is still more out there for me: to learn, to give, to be, and to do. There is still more for you, too. And I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that the world needs the more we can connect to and become.
As Advent wanes and Christmas draws nigh, we look to the pillar of love. Where does gentle love begin? Is it in the things we buy, package, and donate? The wishes we try to fulfill? Is it in the hours we give to rehearsals and practices? Is it in the presents tucked away with all the hopes for them bringing joy when opened? Is it in the moments when we let the To Do list fall by the wayside, when we just sit in the glow of the lights with the warmth of our dear ones in our arms? Is it in our voices lifted still with cries for mercy and justice?
Yes. This is where gentle love begins. In any of it. In all of it. In the small moments, the little things, in the corners of our hearts that we open up, in the generosity that we show, and in the quiet moments that we are mindful of and cherish. When we open ourselves up to let these beautiful things out, we let love and gentleness in as well. It refills us, reinforces us, and reminds us that we are dealing with very human hearts in a very humanly-flawed world.
The world, as we look at it today, is hard, uncertain, and frightening; it batters and beats and berates and bruises those who most need its mercy. We take that in day after day after day and fight not to let it make us hard in turn. We fight back with love and mercy, grace and gentleness. Let’s hold tightly to Love and hold each other gently, Friends.
As Christ showed love to the lost, the rejected, the ill, and the forgotten, let us do the same in this Advent season and on forward forever. Let us not lose that gentle love that makes humanity humane.
Let’s remember the love of our Lord who gave all He had for all of us. May we accept that fierce and gentle love, press its flame to our hearts, and share its light with those around us. May the world, and our Lord, know us by our Love.
Have you been surprised by good things this year? In those moments when we laugh and smile and, for a glorious little while, things feel…normal? The word normal feels like a dangerous one these days, as though we are afraid of it because it might not be graspable, at least not the way we remember it. But, even if normal feels fleeting, joy is still here. Advent is a season of hope, of expectation. What are we expecting, though? We are expecting joy. Whether it be in the transcendent meaning of the Christmas season, the beauty of our homes, neighborhoods, or houses of worship, or the elation of children on Christmas morning, we normally expect joy to come from somewhere. This year, perhaps we are hoping rather than expecting. Perhaps we are praying, pleading, yearning for joy. Romans 15:13 blesses us, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
No matter where we are in our lives this year, joy is still here. It may not be where we expect it to be. Rather joy can be where we choose it to be, where we need it to be.
Joy can be in a child’s thoughtful prayers for others who are suffering or have less than they.
Joy can be in the belly-laugh of your partner, their face bright with a smile.
Joy can be in the wrapping of the perfect gift for a loved one, no matter how simple it may be.
No, Friends, joy may not be where we expect it this year, but it lingers where we need it.
In the world in which we live, peace seems like a far-fetched dream. Peace in a world of sickness, fear, worry, and dread? Peace in a world of struggle, suffering, loneliness, and inequity? Yes, peace is hard to find. Yet it can be found. Jesus holds it in His hands, its tiny flame dancing and throwing just enough light to glow in our eyes. Here, His heart says to ours. Here is a bit of peace.
A bit of peace in a glorious sunrise filling the sky with painted fire and jeweled clouds.
A bit of peace in a quiet house after little ones are abed, the fireplace or the wind outside the only sounds for a few moments.
A bit of peace in an unexpected card or gift that brings a smile to our faces.
A bit of peace in that favorite comforting song coming on the radio.
A bit of peace in the right words said at the just the right time.
Here is peace built piecemeal, one bit at a time. We may not be able to see peace on a large scale, but we can find it in its bits and pieces all around. We can find the tiny dancing flames and press them warm to our heart and soul. If only we know how to look for the little bits, the hidden bits. We can cup our hands around Jesus’s hands and smile with Him over peace built piecemeal. Together all those little flames can cast light in the darkness, enough light to warm every heart.
2020 has barreled its way through our lives like so much of a stampede, seeming to batter and crush anything in its way. Our days have often been swathed in worry, upheaval, pain, and grief. We have spent this year living in the space between breaths.
We acknowledge the losses, the pain, the change, the struggles, and the sadness of this year. We take 2020 to heart because it has affected every corner of our lives.
But there is something else that we take to heart, Friends. In all of the struggle, in all of the hard, we take Hope to heart. We grasp the Hope that we now celebrate today. We grasp the Hope of Jesus’ Coming. We grasp the Hope furnished by His birth, His life, His death, and His rising again. We take to heart the Hope that is grown and nourished by His Love, His Joy, and His Peace.
We can take that Hope to our heart and soul. There may not be much or anything that we can do on a large scale to stem the tide of struggle seemingly inherent within this year, but we can do our best to live in Hope. We can do our best to live in Peace. We can love, hold, do good unto, and care for others, for those who surround us. We can forgive. We can give grace instead of sinking into bitterness and despair.
I am finishing my coffee before my TO DO list for the day begins and I start prepping for my first holiday season in our new home. I have the food to cook for my little family tomorrow as we tamp down our Thanksgiving celebrations. But now comes the tidying, the cleaning, the preparing, and, after tomorrow, the decorating. I still do not have all the Christmas decorations that I could desire but I know that such stockpiles take time, as I am rebuilding them from scratch since the move.
It feels odd to be preparing to dress up a new house for the first time in twelve years. In our old little cottage–which, by the way, we signed the final sale paperwork for last night (big feels!)–I knew where all my decorations went. I knew how I liked things set up and where things had to go in my living room configuration. Nothing was huge or elaborate, but they were there, a constant reminder of stability. Our tree with its silver, blue, and white ornaments, spattered with sentimental ones, glowed in the living room, crowed with its silver star that Ben and Elizabeth put on together every year. It must be the absolute last thing on the tree. I had the same wreath with its silver and white ribbons and flowers for fourteen years. It had had multiple birds’ nests built into it in early springs and then cleaned out once the babies and parents had vacated. The little potted pre-lit tree (that had been our family Christmas tree while we had a cat and small baby) sat faithfully on the front porch, decorated with flowers, leaves, Easter eggs, etc., throughout the differing seasons by myself and my daughter. The silver stockings hung on their snowflake hangers from the dvd shelf, under the compilation frame of family photos and frame by fir branches with silver poinsettas. The nativity scene that my Erin brought back for me from Malawi was set up on the bookshelf, the camel I found at Levi Coffin Days (an almost-perfect match) tucked in amongst the wise men to complete the set.
This year, I will need to figure out just how things will fit in this new house with its new rooms and spaces. I know where the tree is going, and we have a “glowy star” this year, per my daughter’s request and choosing. I haven’t bought any stockings or hangers for the mantlepiece yet (I have a real actual mantlepiece, you guys!), though truly the only one whose stocking gets stuffed any more is my daughter. She has her new one for her door already picked out. Harry Potter, of course.
So this will be a year of starting new in more ways than one. I am trying not to think about not having “enough” to decorate my house this year. What I really want is for my home to be warm, welcoming, and soothing because this will be a holiday season that is already missing some very important people. So I want my home to be a place of uplifting, hygge, and comfort for those hard moments. I want that Christmas-y feeling. Not to avoid the hard moments necessarily but to help them perhaps be not quite so heavy.
I’m trying, dear ones, I really am. But Target is calling my name…
There are days when I look in the mirror and I am troubled by what I see, or, rather, by what I feel at what I see. My skin is the color of Cadbury’s milk chocolate where the sun hits it regularly; the skin hidden under my clothing is more caramel, though it looks like cafe au lait next to my arm. My daughter, when she was little, would pretend that I was chocolate and she was going to gobble me up. It has hit home for me, though–harder in recent years–that I have never felt “black enough”.
When I was little, I was teased by kids at school for my celebrity crushes: boys like Jonathan Taylor Thomas (“Home Improvement”) and Nick Carter (Backstreet Boys). I was told that I wished I were white, the idea voiced for me as though it were a pronouncement handed down from the mount. I was thin as a rail growing up; I didn’t have a body built for curves until almost 30 years later. I have been relaxing my hair since I was twelve and have worn it this way for now twice as long as I had it natural. I like it, but, sometimes, I can keenly feel the lack of my “blackness” because I don’t proudly wear my hair natural and free or intricately, traditionally, or boldly styled. In my first classroom as a full-time teacher, I had several black students who were, as I overheard, quite excited to have a black teacher. The disappointment and even confusion on their face when I opened my mouth and started speaking, was starkly visible to me even though they may not have realized it. I can only hope it didn’t stick.
When “Black Panther” first came out, I scrolled through the joyous pictures of people attending screenings and premiers in all their traditional African finery. It was amazing and beautiful and triumphant. But, somewhere in the midst of it all, I beheld their glory and felt the worm in my heart that whispered, “This is not for me. I have no place here.”
I am a brown-skinned, American-born, full-blooded Caribbean woman from a melting-pot island where I never felt black enough for many of the people around me. Now I live in a place that demands the necessary acknowledgement that black lives matter. (Spoiler alert: we do!) But, again, that worm in the apple in there:
“None of this is for me, or maybe I am not for it. I’m not black enough for this to be for me.”
My curves don’t shine like midnight or my skin glow like dawn. My hair doesn’t surround me in a crown of ombre curls or fall like watered black silk over my shoulders. I haven’t had to power through discrimination and prejudice in my higher education or workplace world (at least not consciously or overtly) in order to be successful. I have lived the most privileged of lives of color, for which I am immensely grateful. In other words, however, I haven’t had to fight for every inch like so many have been forced to do.
There are days when I half-wish that I had no color to feel less than, days that I just don’t feel black enough for any of this black girl magic to belong to me.
But then my daughter says, upon hearing the book Brown Boy Joy read on Netflix’s Bookmarks series, “I wish there was a brown girl joy.”
And so I put my queen-mom heels on and trot out Black Girl Magic Sprinkles (Chaunetta Anderson and Trinity L. Anderson), Honeysmoke (Monique Fields), and Sulwe (Lupita Nyong’o) for my little mixed beauty. My little girl who calls her summery skin “tan”. My little girl who needs to know that all the magic is hers, all the dreams are hers for the taking. She wants to build robots and go to Mars. I want her to build the robots and rockets that will go and then accompany them to Mars.
I want my girl to work and strive and do her best and achieve all the amazing dreams she has. I am doing my best to teach her openness and love, that hard work is nothing to be feared, and that there is always something to be learned, ways in which we can be better. As Princess Shuri (the officially most brilliant mind in the Marvel Cinematic Universe) admonished her kingly brother T’Challa, “How many times do I have to teach you? Just because something works, that does not mean it cannot be improved.”
I want my daughter to tap into her magic every day, to feel it in every way! I will nurture and defend her black girl magic and her right to it until my dying breath.
I may not feel black enough for my own magic, but I damn sure have enough for my daughter and any other black, brown, or mixed kiddo who may walk through my door. I will fight tooth and nail for their magic even though and while I may be iffy about my own. It’s complicated and called being human, I guess.
I have a Spare Oom in my new house. For those of you unfamiliar, Spare Oom is Mr. Tumnus’s mispronunciation of “spare room”, where Lucy Pevensie found the wardrobe that would take her and her siblings to the wondrous Narnia.
“Daughter of Eve from the far land of Spare Oom where eternal summer reigns around the bright city of War Drobe, how would it be if you came and had tea with me?” – Mr. Tumnus, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
In our new home, Spare Oom is “my” room. It is supposed to be my office/guest room, though I have had a hard time verbally claiming it as my own. I have done so metaphorically with the bookshelves and their arrangement, but I have found myself, in other ways, tailoring it more to my mother’s tastes and aesthetic, as she will likely be the most consistent overnight guest we will have (should this pandemic ever abate and borders reopen). So I often catch myself referring to it as “Grandma’s/Marmee’s room” rather than my own. I am trying to train myself into the more middle-of-the-road name of Spare Oom, to which I have become attached because I have decorated it with the Narnia-themed art that one of my best friends, Courtney Pritchard, has created for me over the years.
Spare Oom is supposed to be somewhere I can get away to hide when I need to, supposed to be something that I have not had over the past few years: a space of my own. This particular day is the first time I am using it as such, seated in a corner with my faithful stuffed pupper friend Deborah by my side, and wishing that I escape through my own closet, just for a little while. Today, I am hiding from my little girl and what feels like her constant state of being upset with me. What made her angry today? The suggestion that I might need to go to the store and therefore take her with me because Ben is helping a friend move some plants.
I am the Breaker of Hearts. The Dampener of Dreams. The Ruiner of Lives. The Forcefeeding Warden. The Tower-Banishing Queen. The Woman Who Doesn’t Know ANYTHING.
“Mom” is an unenviable position to be in right now. At least it is for me. I am the person saying”no”. I am the one reminding her of washing hands, turning off lights, and putting things away. I am the person refusing to let her have chocolate right before bed. I am the person dragging her along on errands and chores while Ben is at work and thus ruining her day…or her life, whichever is worse. Nope. “Mom” is not the most fun position to be in right now.
2020 has been a year of massive change, both obviously and surprisingly. From school closures to quarantine and isolation to distance learning to, finally, our then finding a new home, packing up, and moving an hour and a half away all in the space of a month. There has been change after change not only for us but also for our girl, I know. And change is hard. I am doing my best to help her process through it, which proves challenging at times when I have barely had time to process myself (as I am learning even right now). Still, it’s hard to feel constantly at odds with her. I am trying to pay attention to and temper my words, actions, and body language with her (as I know my big feelings bleed through at times, too). I want, above all things, to remind and reassure my little girl that she is safe with me. Often, though, the moment where I do constantly feel the bond between us is at bedtime, when, after prayers, a story, and a mug of warm milk, she wants me to sing to her and stay close until she falls asleep. It’s a sweet moment that I so very often wish I weren’t so tired during but am still thankful for.
While mothering is difficult (so very difficult!) right now, I know that giving up is not an option. Things are still very hard, the world is still unsteady, and the idea of normal activities (such as going back to school) is still scary. And if I am scared, then she might be as well. If my girl will have no other stability, no other rock in this environment, I am determined that she will have me. Even if I do need to disappear into Spare Oom for my own sanity from time to time.
Hold fast, dear friends. There are days when the hard will be insurmountable, and all we can do is hole up, hold fast, and try again tomorrow. That is okay. That is allowed. And you are still loved, rooted for, and believed in. Rest when you need to. Spare Oom is waiting.
My head ached and my stomach roiled as I looked over the papers the other night: the lease for what we had been dearly hoping would become our new home. This was the next step in a new chapter for our little family, and I felt as though all my sense and surety had fled and failed me. All my certainty seemed to wobble underneath me, all that I was sure of before lost in a haze of “I don’t know,” and “Is this right?”
During a recent bedtime, our daughter told us that she believed God had told her that the house (over whose lease I was now laboring) was perfect for us. Honestly, we all thought so and had prayed and hoped deeply that our application might be approved. Then it was and now there I sat, suddenly questioning the last two weeks of my life and every decision made therein. It has been twelve years since we rented a home; was this lease fair? Where would the extra money come from for all this if something went wrong? What if no schools accepted my job applications? Was this indeed the next right thing, the right choice for our family? Now, we do believe that our little girl did indeed hear God’s voice in her heart, that she did hear Him answer her silent question of a new home. Yet, here I was: feeling sick to my stomach with uncertainty.
Needing a minute to clear my head, I sat down with a box of encouragement cards that a friend had given me, and this is the one I pulled out of the stack:
I had made an old choice, and I had chosen wrongly. I had chosen an old frenemy: fear. It has stood between me and the new many times before, and I have missed much through its uncertainty. And, though I believe in this next chapter for our family, I had chosen fear again and it had made itself uncomfortable in my belly.
I need to choose again.
I want to choose again.
I will choose again.
This time, I choose love.
When I say that, I do not necessarily mean that I am choosing love for others, though that is always a good (and a God) thing. What I mean by choosing love is that I am choosing God’s love for me. His love which means He has a plan for me, a plan for my good and to prosper my future. I do not want to choose fear and let it paralyze me again. I want to choose and believe in God’s love for me, no matter how nervous I may feel about the big changes coming our way. I want to continually choose God’s love for me and have faith that He will open the necessary doors and that all will work out.
One thing is for absolutely certain: God has never failed me yet. I choose to believe that He will not start now.
Yesterday, my little girl and I took advantange of the beautiful day and took a nice, long walk. We have been cooped up in the house by the weather and the last week of school, and we needed some fresh air desperately. So we pulled on our sneakers, got out her bike, and my little girl and I took 35 minutes to walk/bike almost the entire length of the main road through our little town.
My daughter and I are very different personalities, you may have noticed if you have been reading here for a while, but that walk and then sitting down together with ice cream afterward were very nice. For a little while, our personalities didn’t rub each other wrongly. I was patient and she was attentive. We left our house in one direction and returned from the other direction. She paid close attention to stopping at each road or sidestreet to look and listen before crossed. I called out encouragement and helped her walk through a newly-formed anxiety of the train crossing through town. At one point while sitting on our front steps, my girl scooted close to me so her shoulder touched my arm, and I leaned back into her, a silent reminder each to each that we love each other. It has been a rough two months, cooped up together, constantly in each other’s bubbles, an introvert and extreme extrovert. That quiet moment shared between us was honestly a little miracle moment in the midst of the past few weeks, and I am so thankful for it.
This time of separation and isolation has been difficult for us all. It has often rubbed our personalities and feelings the wrong way. Introverts have been surrounded by their people on a constant basis with no way to escape the chaos of family. Extroverts have been prevented from surrounding themselves by their friends and new people with whom they can make friends. Parents suddenly had to take on the role of teacher, conductor, coach, etc. Children have had to take greater the initiative of learning. We have ALL become counselors to a greater degree as we try to meet our children’s hierarchy of needs in the midst of all this (which they often cannot even articulate), as well as our own. We are all starved for the companionship and affective of separate family and friends. This has been and is hard.
So that quiet moment when my girl leaned into me, or at night when she requests a lullaby and reaches to hold my hand while I sing, those momentary miracle mean even more. And I want to notice them before it is too late.
May we notice and cherish these momentary miracles as we walk through these days…separate but still together.