Advent 2021: The Beginning of Christ (Christmas Eve)


Despite the well-known Christmas song, we can be fairly certain that the night that Jesus was born was anything but quiet. Between a city full of people, a stable full of animals, a sky full of angels, and a woman full of pain, “silent” was likely not a word one would have used to describe that night in Bethlehem. And yet, into all that noise, the Lion of Judah came in the form of a tiny, squawling, lambsoft baby. In the midst of her exhaustion, I imagine that Mary cuddled him close, using what she had learned from helping her cousin Elizabeth to clean, swaddle, feed, and rock her holy son to sleep, her lamb slumbering in a manger. Amidst all the clamor of that night, this most important of events was definitely not center-stage, but, tonight on Christmas Eve, we celebrate it first and foremost. We celebrate the work of Christ that was begun on that night in a solitary stable and ended on a seemingly hopeless hill 33 years later. Tonight, as Advent ends, we celebrate Christmas’s beginning. We have expected, we have prepared, and now we rejoice.

Let Heaven and Nature sing, joy to the world. The Lord has come.

Merry Christmas to you all, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.

Art by Jay Bryant Ward

Advent 2021: How Great Our Joy


My mother’s favorite Christmas carol is “Joy to the World”. Joy to the world! The Lord has come! This is one of few triumphant traditional Christmas hymns. Most of them are songs of hope and expectation, but this one…oh, this one! This is a song of celebration! Of adulation of God’s plan accomplished, of the banishment of sorrow, and the raining down of blessing. It is a song of literal joy, both in its tone and in its directive.

As Advent comes to a close this week with the beginning of Christmas, let’s allow ourselves some joy. In the midst of all that must still be done, let’s pause and breathe and let joy glow within us, no matter what form it takes.

As I put my daughter to sleep recently, I sat on the edge of her bed and, before I could sing her a lullaby, my mind cast itself back into my childhood Christmases — the concerts, the programs, the recitations — and, automatically, a familiar childhood voice began to remind me of just what Christmas is all about: “And there were, in the same country, shepherds abiding in the fields…” As a child, I memorized this section of Luke 2 through Linus’s recitation in A Charlie Brown Christmas. Charlie Brown, frustrated by his seeming failure at Christmas, demands to know just what Christmas was all about, and so Linus tells him. As I recalled his smile at “I bring you tidings of great joy…a Savior which is Christ the Lord”, I felt my heart swell with that self-same joy. And I found myself wanting to linger there in that silence, in what Shakespeare calls the “perfectest herald of joy”. 

As we embark upon the beginning of Christmas week and celebrate the work commenced by Christ’s birth, in all the hustle and bustle, let us not lose sight of the joy — both silent and exultant — that filled that corner of the world and Heaven on that night. If we allow it, it can overflow our hearts today. Let Heaven and nature sing: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill towards men.

As you move into Christmas, dear Friends, “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” (Romans 15:13).

Card image by Hallmark

Advent 2021: Love is Not a Moment, It’s Movement


As children we are often taught that love is a noun, an idea, an emotion. I prefer to believe–and teach myself, my daughter, and my students–that love is actually a verb. An action. A choice. Love is not only what we feel. Love is actually what we do. We love others through the choices we make. Choices to do what will help, uplift, and encourage them, and not to tear them down. Love is in our doing, not merely in our feeling. 

    Throughout Advent we do many things. We decorate houses, trees, lawns, gingerbread cookies and cottages, and cakes. We take family pictures and send out Christmas cards. We buy and wrap a gaggle of gifts for a plethora of people. We go skating and to Christmas, parties, markets, and concerts. In all of this doing, though, are we leaving room for doing in love? Are we holding space for the sweet little acts and services that we can lovingly perform? 

How can we verb Love in this Christmas season when so much can feel dark and grim? How can we live out Jesus and show Him to those around us, folding His name into the work of our hands as well as the words of our mouths? Often we forget that moving and doing in love can be the small, simple things and not only the grandiose gestures. A little card left in your mailbox thanking you for the beautiful lights display that you worked through that blustery day to put up. The cookies that you baked and gently left for your neighbors. That perfect sweater you found for your child that just makes them smile all over. Love in action leads us to Love as Life Practice. And as Advent moves us through this season of expectation and preparation, may Love be the guiding star that is leading us to the joy and glory that is Christ Jesus.

As Paul Williams so brilliantly wrote–and Robin the Frog so beautifully sang–in his song “Bless Us All”, “Let us always love each other. Lead us to the light” (The Muppet Christmas Carol).

Advent 2021: The Light of Hope


It seemed impossible to fathom that 2021 could be harder than 2020 in any way and yet…it is easy to see that it has surpassed all those non-expectations. In many ways, 2021 has proven indelibly harder on our hearts, minds, and bodies than the previous year. In that difficulty, hope has often seemed to wane. As we enter this season of Advent, of preparation and arrival, let us not allow despair and difficulty to rob us of that most blessed gift: hope. 

Hope is an everyday treasure. In Neil Gaiman’s famous series The Sandman, two characters have a contest, a seemingly simple game but with dire stakes.  It is The Oldest Game, a game of imagination with each character trying to best the other, to come up with the Final Idea.

One character claims, “I am the dark, the end of everything. The end of universes, gods, worlds…of everything.” 

Into the bleakness they painted, Dream of the Endless replied…simply, powerfully:  “I am Hope.”  

To this there can be no reply, no defeat, no destruction because hope is everywhere to be found. In every heart and mind, in every space in life. As the poet Alexander Pope wrote, hope springs eternal. No matter how we suffer, how we hurt, or how little light can be seen, our eyes will always seek out and find it–even the merest pinprick of light in the darkness, the tiniest bit of hope to cling to.

“I am Hope,” is God’s gentle whisper to worn and weary hearts at this onset of Advent. As we begin this journey into the Christmas season, Hope is at our side. As we wend towards the end of 2021, sometimes with tremulous steps, Hope is under our arm, supporting us. Even the merest mustard seed of faith that things will get better and that God will show us the way lends strength and power to Hope. Hope is in a hand outstretched to help, in celebrating a hard task done, and even in the quickest of kind notes and gentle acknowledgements from our dear ones. Hope is in the bringing-together words of “Me, too. You aren’t alone.” 

Hope is what holds us aloft and all together. Hope in life, hope in God and His love, hope in His light. As the first Advent candle glows, may we find hope in its flame and in the Word it prepares us for.

Romans 15:13: “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.”

Walking Before the World is Awake….& Something New


I love walking before the world is awake.
When the sky is still a slate-colored marshmallow,
With just a hint of a suggestion of daylight beyond.
But not yet.
This is my chapel.
This is my serenity.
This is where I re-center.
Windows are still dark.
Walkway lights still lit.
Just enough light to see by
But not enough to push you towards wakefulness.
It’s as though the world, by silent agreement, has made space just for me and my silent steps.
I love it when even the birds are quiet.
As though the mourning doves cooed in earlier dark,
“Roll over. Sleep on.
The world is loud enough already.
Let her walk in peace.”

©️ Melissa Snyder, 8/28/21

~ So I’m trying something here, Dear Readers. I have only done it once or twice before. Below you will find a link to a Voice-over Reading of the piece above. Yes, that is me. What do think? Would this be something to pursue? Something you might enjoy more of? Let me know your thoughts down below in the comments and we shall see what we shall see. ^_^

The Unfinished Work of Freedom


I was today years old when I realized something. As we stood in the meeting house this morning and sang “America the Beautiful”, I found myself looking at the lyrics, the music dying away on my lips as I read and thought. The latter section of each verse is, in its essence, a prayer.

v1 – O beautiful for spacious skies, 
for amber waves of grain; 
for purple mountain majesties 
above the fruited plain! 
America! America! God shed his grace on thee, 
and crown thy good with brotherhood 
from sea to shining sea. 

v2 – O beautiful for heroes proved 
in liberating strife, 
who more than self their country loved, 
and mercy more than life! 
America! America! May God thy gold refine, 
till all success be nobleness, 
and every gain divine. 

v3 – O beautiful for patriot dream 
that sees beyond the years 
thine alabaster cities gleam,
undimmed by human tears! 
America! America! God mend thine every flaw, 
confirm thy soul in self-control, 
thy liberty in law.

For all their extolling America’s virtues, these verses and the prayers embedded into them acknowledge that there is still so far to go, so much to do in the work towards that American Dream of freedom. And I find myself appreciating this honesty, whether the authoress, Katharine Lee Bates, intended it or not.

The absolute truth of our country is that freedom is still an unrealized dream. No, slavery doesn’t exist anymore in our country (not as we historically think of it) but the cultural and societal beliefs and mindsets that engendered it still survive and pervade. Freedom and independence still do not exist for all in America. The fight for equality and equity is still on-going. It is not over because not everyone is truly free and, ever more the worse, many refuse to acknowledge this truth.

“God mend thine every flaw.”

We are such a flawed nation, dear readers. We pull away the rights and access that we were taught were the very basis and foundation for our country’s creation in the first place. We deny others the security, equality, and freedoms that we have enjoyed. We shove people out instead of welcoming them in. We revel in and even proudly display our biases, our prejudices, our hatreds, and out the other corner of our mouths, we declare this “the greatest country on earth”. It is not. We have not fed the hungry, sheltered the homeless, clothed the naked. We have not welcomed the desperate stranger nor loved our neighbors as ourselves (no exceptions). We are not free. Not yet.

So, as we cook our hot dogs and terrify our pets with colorful explosions, let’s not forget, dear friends, that one of our most “patriotic” songs acknowledges the long way we have yet to go and prays for us in it.

Till all success be nobleness.”

We are not free because not everyone is free or has the equity or ability to live with dignity and rights. Freedom has never been and still is not yet “for all”. We are not done yet. So don’t you dare think that this is the time to sit back and rest on your laurels and admire how great America is. We aren’t there. Not yet. We are closer. But not there yet.

So. Finish up your hot dog and potato salad, make sure that your sparklers are all the way out, and get up. Let’s go. There’s still work to do, friends–for our loved ones, for our neighbors (all of them), for our country. Let’s go make it beautiful.

What Is This Feeling, Sudden and New?


I think I get what Elphaba and Galinda were singing about now. Well, in a way, at least.

Our family has recently grown by one member. This new member is about 11 inches long, weighs approximately 1lb, has beautiful blue-green eyes, and the sweetest little tufts of white fur stick out between his toes. Yes, our newest family member is a little two-month-old kitten named Jack (or, as I call him in my head, Jackson Ozymandias Snyder). He has been in our house for almost a week now and has thoroughly claimed all three of us as his own. He is slight and light, with his own unique little meow, and we love him dearly already. But, somehow, amidst that love, this kitten has settled like a weight within my chest. A little ball of anxiety curled up amidst the playfulness and comfort, Fear and worry over this additional little life for which I am now responsible and the routine of life which he has totally upended. Now we have another’s comfort, safety, and well-being to consider, whose needs may be far different than ours.

I did not expect this anxiety upon keeping the promise of a kitten to my daughter. I did not expect an abject fear so great that I wanted to hand him back to his foster family and call the whole thing off. Fear that I might fail him, like I failed Ozymandias before him. Our Ozzy who had to be re-homed after Lizzy was born because I, in my postpartum struggles, did not have the energy to expend to redirect his dissatisfaction with this squalling pink thing that we had brought home and that was constantly in his spots. We did re-home him on my in-laws’ farm but he got out and disappeared. We have no idea what happened to him after that and, unbeknownst to me, the guilt had buried deep. I had broken my promise of a forever home. I had failed him.

I absolutely did not expect the guilt and fear of that failure to crash over and try to drown me in this new attempt. In private, I have breathed, cried, and wrung my hands when the urge to give Jack back is strongest. When he curls into my lap after his favorite little playmate has gone to bed and turns into a little void loaf, purring as loudly as ever he can, I cup my hand around his tiny head or the curve of his back and murmur to him. I tell Jack how imperfect I am, how I have failed before, but I also promise to do my best for him. I promise to keep him fed, sheltered, healthy, and to love him as much as I can. I will be imperfect; I will fail. But I am going to do my best to love him, teach him “soft paws”, enrich him, and help him feel forever safe.

The anxiety is still here, just as it is for my daughter as she goes about her first week of summer camp, but I don’t want to stay stuck in it. Maybe this is a first step forward in my wider work of healing and recovery in the midst of my anxiety: choosing to trust that I will do my best and believing that, day to day, that it is enough for that moment. I love little Jack. So does my daughter; she says thank you for him at least once a day and aches to get back to him at the end of camp. My husband burst into tears when Jack climbed into and curled up in his lap for the first time of his own accord. I know he carries the guilt of Ozzy’s fate, too. But we will do our best. I know we will.

Whatever you are facing in your journey today, dear Reader, do not despair. You will be imperfect, it’s rather unavoidable, but do not let that keep you from trying. Your best will vary from day to day but, no matter what, it will be your best and it will be enough for that moment. I believe that. And I believe in you.

Finding my Voice in the Silence


It has felt as though my voice has gone quiet, that there is just heavy silence where my soul is. Heavy, exhausted silence. Many often wonder at the silence of God. I wonder at my own silence. I am on auto-pilot. When I respond enthusiastically in a conversation or to a request, part of me is standing back, staring in awe and often shock at this person who is just continuing on with life. Or at least it’s the part of me that best knows, ostensibly, how to play this game called life. The other part of me, though, what feels like most of me, is silent.

I want to speak. I want to write. I want to have conversation. I want to laugh. I want to be silly. I miss all these things, deeply and dearly. Yet I struggle. When I do engage in them, except with my closest of people, I feel that emotional separation again. As though I’m sending a social golem out with my voice while the real me stays back in silence.

I know my voice is still here. I hear it every day. I hear it in the words I say and the encouragements that I give to my students. I hear it in my FB and IG posts and in my message to friends to check up on them, I hear it in the cards and letters that I tuck into the mailbox. Using my voice for others feels like the easy job, a performance and practice that I know well enough to make it muscle-memory, strange as that might sound. Using it myself, for what I love, for what I want…that feels infinitely harder.

How do I coax my voice back out? Not just for others but for myself? I want to get back to using my voice for me, too. Not just for God and for others, but also for myself. To ask for what I need, say what I want, speak truth without fear.

My voice can be a thing of beauty, of power, of gentleness, and abject love and grace. I want to find it and the courage to use it again. Not just for others but also for myself. Because I deserve all that, too.

How do I do that again? Am I doing it right now? I honestly don’t know. But I am going to try.

A Year Later, As the Story Goes…


Of course, it popped up in my memories today. All of them. Facebook, Google Photos, Instagram…they all found it absolutely imperative to remind me that, one year ago today, my little corner of the world shut down–just like everyone else’s. First, school closing was announced until April 13. Then, this morning a year ago, it snowed. Snowed heavily enough for my daughter to go out to play in it and for me to take a snowy tromp out across the field behind our house. The next day, I took my last dinner and a movie outing with a bestie. Then the world screeched to a halt, and I haven’t done it since. I may miss it but this is not a post about what I miss. Not really. Not entirely. More like it’s about what’s missing.

A year ago, I posted about stopping. Could I just stop? Stop and embrace the unknown of what was next? Stop and rest? I decided I could, and I did. I found new avenues of connection, encouragement, and expression. I held hands with dear ones, students, and strangers across the digital gap, turning my talents into new strands of gold. Despite the hardships of lockdown, which I detail out quite honestly in my personal journals, I don’t remember being afraid. I don’t remember the paralysis of worry and fear. In fact, in some ways, I thrived in that odd spring.

Here we are now, a year later. Progress is being made, medical measures are now available for safety, the world has begun to move again, in some cases very quickly, and, now–NOW–I feel as though I am in survival mode. The avenues I had discovered and thrived through last spring feel barren and cold to me now; they have become things that I no longer have time or energy for. Tricks and emotional hacks that have lost some of their efficacy; the shine has dulled, the gold seems to have flaked off.

And that hurts. It hurts more than I care to admit at times.

A year later, I am honestly avoiding people. I am avoiding socializing. A friend messaged me the other day to let me know that they were glad to see me on a Zoom gaming session last week and, as grateful as I was for that and as much as I did have fun for the most part, I felt an internal balking at making it a consistent thing. It takes so much to participate in life now. So much energy, so many spoons, so much emotional risk. I find myself hesitating at things that I would have leapt at in the Before Times, such as seeing friends in person that I haven’t seen in a long time. I find myself thinking twice about saying yes now; so much so that the hubby has taken to telling me, “Say yes. Yes is your answer,” when I bring up invitations. So I am trying to say ‘yes’ more. Do I always say ‘yes’? Absolutely not. Sometimes I just cannot handle the idea of sitting with someone in person and talking; other times, it’s all I want in the world.

A year later, I feel depleted, shrunken rather than grown. I feel hunched and inward-facing rather than outward-facing, though I still pour out out of sheer habit sometimes, which is a very strange dichotomy in which to be. I am hesitant to hope, to look forward to things, because disappointment looms. Large changes drain me because this last year has been one full to overflowing with them. So, like Tony Stark, I concentrate on what I can do. (“You’re a mechanic, right?” “Yeah.” “So build something.” “…Okay.”) I am giving everything to the point of exhaustion to work/teaching, because that is what I can do. It’s frustrating as all get out. I will not call it rewarding because that is not where I am right now, but it’s my job. It is what I have to do, and the kids in my classroom need something I can hopefully give. We are all closed-off to an extent right now but…I can try. I will cry and curse and collapse, probably, but it is what I can do right now. So I do it. I am unsure as to whether anyone truly understands the withertos and whyfores for me in this, but…it is where I am. I don’t know if it is helping me, I know it is not a long-term answer, but I cannot help but hope it is helping. Someone. Somehow.

I was not emotionally prepared to be this emotionally unprepared a year later. I feel more fragile than I did last spring; more hesitant, shyer, and more anxious. I feel less seen and, in some cases, less willing to be seen. Like I want to hide and hibernate until I am ready to be in the world again, when the climate is right again for me, whenever that may be. But, as I am not a tardigrade, that is not an avenue that is open to me. So I will keep on. I will try the avenues that are open to me and try to give myself and others a fighting chance at making it.

If you are in this place of emotional unpreparedness, too, you aren’t alone. Know that. The world has not ended; this struggle will, though, I hope. Just hold on, okay? I’m right there beside you, holding on, too. Even if it is just by our fingertips. Feel that? That’y my pinkie touching yours. You aren’t alone.

If you are struggling, please do not hesitate to reach out. There are avenues open for you, friends.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or Live Online Chat

If you or someone you know is suicidal or in emotional distress, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Trained crisis workers are available to talk 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Your confidential and toll-free call goes to the nearest crisis center in the Lifeline national network. These centers provide crisis counseling and mental health referrals.

SAMHSA’s National Helpline – 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.

Initiating a Reconnect


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.

Photo by Getty Images