Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

With festivities in full swing I just dropped in to share a few things I've been loving lately.

hints of Christmas everywhere,

This cozy room to sit in after a cold rainy day when the house is still for a few short moments after bedtime,

The adorable way she says Merry Christmas,and her insistence on this hat that is way too big for her,

His intentness when I read him The Jesus Storybook Bible even when it makes me cry,

The hands that carved this bird,

and the hands that fixed its broken wing,

and my constant little songbird.
May you be surrounded with warmth, peace and love this season. To you and yours, Merry Christmas!

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Monday, December 22, 2008

O Come...

I find myself a few short days from Christmas with a heart full of thoughts. I've said before I'm just a little crazy about Christmas. I love helping to create some of the magic and meaning of the advent season with my little brood. I think there are hints of Christmas in every room in the house; paper snowflakes in the windows and the smell of pine and baking fills the house.

I'm not sure when it happens but somewhere along the line the innocence we have as children is lost. The forever-long wait until the 25th, filled with all manner of festive wonders is traded in for being the one responsible for making it all happen. So days quickly pass with shopping, parties, baking, cleaning, visiting, and just being the mama and making sure everyone is happy. Despite the busyness, I love every minute of it. This year though, something has felt different.

This is a portion of a book called Watch for the Light which I like to remember this time of year.
"What if on Christmas Eve people came and sat in dim pews, and someone stood up and said, "Something happened when you where out at the malls, while we were baking cookies and fretting about if we got our brother-in-law the right gift: Christ was born. God is here"? We wouldn't need the glorious choruses and the harp and the bell choir and the organ. We wouldn't need the tree strung with lights. We wouldn't need to deny that painful dissonance between the promise and hope of Christmas and a world wracked with sin and evil. All of that would seem gaudy and shallow in comparison to the sanctity of that still sanctuary. And we, hushed and awed by something greater and wiser and kinder than we, would kneel of one accord in the stillness. A peace would settle over the planet like a velvet coverlet drawn over a sleeping child. The world would recollect itself and discover itself held in the womb of The Mother of God. We would be filled with the fullness of God, even as we filled the emptiness of the savior's heart with ours."
---Loretta Ross-Gotta

I heard a sermon last week that captured so much of how I have felt this season. This season of advent really is about rejoicing in our manger-born King who became like us so He could rescue us and about our longing for Him to come again. My pastor read this story from a recent issue of the New York Times about a cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe that killed the youngest five children of one family a few weeks back. This month, in this season of celebration, my heart has at times been heavy. We have had some grey days as of late. Some so grey when I woke I wondered if it was still night because the darkness dragged into the day, and I sipped my tea watching the cloud-shrouded dripping mountain instead of the pink glow of morning sun lighting it up. I don't suppose I'd stopped long enough to sort through how I'd been feeling. On one such grey day last week I found myself on a lonely stretch of highway peering through water streaming down the windshield and down my cheeks. There was a weight on my shoulders of loved ones hurting, broken relationships, the struggle of our flesh. I thought of those precious children whose little bodies' fought for life and quickly lost under deplorable health conditions. For the woman whose husband abandoned her this year, the man diagnosed with cancer, the family that lost their house and is broke. What does this baby born so long ago mean for them? And I wept for those children who suffered and for the ones they left behind, wept for thousands of others who are suffering all over the world. I was not despairing but longing, expectant for the day His sword will yield the final death blow to suffering and sin.
Certainly there is no easy tidy bit of rhetoric to dissolve these gut-wrenching issues. But with that said, I cling to the hope that is Christmas. That the King and creator of all that wrapped himself in human flesh was so pained by the sadness and suffering of the people he loved, that he made a plan to rescue us. It didn't end in a manger or on a cross, our Prince of Peace will obliterate and destroy the sting of death and disease. This is what I know, so I wait... and whisper through tears, O come, O come Emmanuel.

Today I held my friends brand new baby girl. Her name is Selah Grace. Selah was taken from the Psalms and is believed to mean to pause and reflect, what a lovely reminder. It is in the light of such darkness that I was awed by the beauty of her tiny face, the wrinkled skin on her hands, her smell. The contrast of such suffering and such blessing. The strength in Josh's arms around me, the sweet spirits of my children, these blessings that I am overwhelmed to be the recipient of. As Christmas draws near my soul rejoices in the love that our God has lavished on us and in the promise of hope and healing.

Monday, December 01, 2008

happy december

I kind of can't believe that we are in December already. But it seemed fitting that today where I stood in my kitchen sipping my first morning tea, watching the sun light up the mountain, that the first snow of the season was gracing the tippy top of Lookout. Here in the south we don't see too much snow so I knew we just couldn't resist. I bundled up the kids until they could barely walk and up we went to see what we could see. We left behind the soggy grey valley and finally reached the fresh beauty of new fallen snow. I watched in delight as my furry little creatures touched and tasted exploring like they had just stepped out of the wardrobe into Narnia... a good way to start December I think.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

bright spots

Some things that have made me smile lately:
watching Josh and Juden at their easels side by side, painting away a sunny afternoon,

my kids endless fascination with Fall and finding the remnants of their treasure baskets everywhere, Ella's teapot filled with acorns, leaves in the couch and stuck in the windows,

watching the fire leaves fade to warm browns as Autumn starts to breath its last and the stark branches spread like veins through the twilight sky,

chasing daylight but finding more time to curl up and read in front of the fire,

cozy Wednesday breakfasts at Niedlov's watching the city wake up through foggy windows,
my niece, "sweet Sophia" as Juden calls her

finding this lovely scarf in my mailbox, made by a thoughtful friend,

I love the bright spots.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Painting

So, it's not looking hopeful, at this point, that we will have the cd completed by Christmas. It is a time consuming project but one that I have so enjoyed. We've spent many nights in the attic studio. Sometimes I call it the nest because it is so high all you can see from the windows are the tree tops; a good place to create away from everyday distractions. We've spent many hours thinking through ideas and weaving together sounds and pieces of melodies and watching songs take shape like a mosaic with tiny specks of bright colors that finally form an image. Some nights we sip cheap wine and inspiration flows more quickly than we can bottle it, the music comes easily and the hours are swept away in the pleasant outflow of ideas. Other nights it is technical and tedious and hard to focus, but mostly incredibly fulfilling especially to be able to do this with Josh.
I thought I'd share a song from the cd which is almost done. It still needs an intro and some strings but it is mostly done. It is called The Painting. It is dear to me mostly because it ends with words my dad spoke to me almost every night before I went to sleep. You can listen to it by clicking here.

Saturday, November 08, 2008


Autumn is my favorite season but it also seems that my mind goes involuntarily back to the last days I spent with my dad while he was dying. Our last conversations, the last thing I fed him, the last songs I sang for him,the last time I heard him laugh, his sadness, his worship and the rapid disintegration of his dignity. I don't really want to go back to those end days so I try to not let myself.

There is so much I love about the Fall only intensified by my desire to share it with my children. So we spend our days outside, on walks, collecting treasure, throwing rocks in the water, we try to take our work and play outside to soak up every last drop of the fleeting daylight. There has been healing and these Autumn days have been quite magical really. Do you ever pass a place where the golden light is so surreal you just want to lie there all day?

Today however I knew it would be hard not to remember that four years ago today I held his hand and watched him die. I wanted to be outside with my family on this pristine day, much like that day four years ago. So we drove a little ways to a mountain to hike and escape for awhile. As we drove I watched the trees, their colors as thick as oil paint and the notes of this song penetrating my soul.Definitely worth taking a minute to listen. Suddenly the way the leaves spun and swirled across the road from the truck in front of us like sunlit sparks from a fire seemed to be in unison with the lilting melody and the memories of him. I was overwhelmed with how purely glorious the sights and sounds of aliveness are. I let the quiet tears fall into the reflection in the window and let myself go back there for a few moments.

The other day I was walking with the kids at the Nature Center and Juden was asking all sorts of questions like why we were always outside lately and what happens in the Fall. I told him that Autumn would go by quickly and that once it gets cold the leaves turn colors and they die and the trees are all bare. He looked very sad and said, "mommy, I don't want the leaves to die and turn back into soil." So I tried to explain the natural process of life and death in nature and that the leaves die and replenish the earth to make room for new life in the Spring. But they get to turn all the colors of flames and shine their brightest before they die, the best I could do in four year old terms. I looked around at the sun shining through deep yellows and red and thought of how my dad seemed renewed and like the truest version of himself right before his journey ended.
I have a little matchbox which reads,"Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I've got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible..." G.B. Shaw
My dad made his life shine brightly in a million ways and I like to think I am continuing some small aspect of the burning.

Grief can take on so many faces. There is the grief which causes momentary sighs of melancholy and there is the grief that torments your dreams at night and wakes you sweating and gasping for air, grief that makes you wonder when you will have a tearless day. I have experienced both, and once you have stood alongside a grave where your loved one lies, you are never really the same. But four years later I can testify to God's power of healing. There is a void that can not be filled at holidays and in family pictures and in all of our hearts but I can see now, God's tender mercies and I trust in His perfect plan.

Friday, November 07, 2008

the boy

Perhaps I feel this way about every new phase my kids enter but I am really loving four lately. I remember anticipating how cool it would be when I could communicate better with my kids. Well, it's here and it is so lovely to hear his innocent questions, to watch his exuberance over the tiniest of things. If you are a friend of ours or Juden's, you know that the moment he lays eyes on you his whole face lights up and his volume goes up ten notches with excitement to see you. Wouldn't it be nice if such genuine joy was apparent when people greeted you; wouldn't it just make your whole day brighter? I am amazed at how much I can learn from a child. There is so little cynicism which allows such a spirit of trust and wonder. And I think about how our God tells us we must become like a child.

He's like his mama in his intensity and passion for things. Some days I feel so inadequate to be disciplining and shaping Juden but most of the time I walk through my days with his hand in mine and his little head on my shoulder and I wonder what I did to deserve the gift of holding his tender heart in my hands. So I carefully answer his endless questions, and he makes me laugh like crazy and I thank God for these days and hope that the day is not too near when his wonder and excitement wanes.

Juden goes in these all or nothing phases and right now it is all about drawing. I feel like I'm living with a mad artist in the making. He will spend hours perfectly silent just drawing on anything he can get his hands on. So if you notice any graffiti in our house it is probably Juden's handiwork. Talk about intensity , we are taking out forests over here.
It is such a privilege and high calling , this thing of mothering. I find that the more I am able to talk and reason with Juden the more conscious I am of figuring out how to reach his heart not just modify his behavior. I am seeing fruit in the soft-conscience that is growing in Juden. He seems increasingly aware of the need for truth, kindness, and self-control. He's a feisty little guy and he definitely has his moments but I am thankful to see the stirrings of his heart. Another thing I try to remember is to affirm him but not to reward him for good behavior to the point that he equates being good with being loved. And yet another picture of how being a mother has taught me of my Father's love. There really is nothing he could do or not do to make me love him less.

To my brown eyed little boy who has befriended and named all the ladybugs that are taking over our house, the knight who rescues Ella, the storyteller, the mad artist, the early morning snuggler, the clean house destroyer, and one of the only people I know who gets as excited as me at the moon and the setting sun sky and the leaves, I love you just a little.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

star wars kids

Well, that is enough weightiness for the moment, on to the documenting of the Star Wars tricker-treaters.

For Juden everyday is a good day to be a hero in his super Juden cape, or a pirate or a cowboy or lately, anything Star Wars. He's got a little Star Wars schizophrenia, so if you ask him what he was he will list the names of every character he can remember. A day where little people stroll the streets in costume is a dream come true for Juden, add candy into the mix, and he is one excited little boy.
Princess Leia exercising the force-

Ewok Naya with little monkey Nora.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

God shed your grace

My vote is in, and I think I will be a little relieved when the racket of this whole election settles a bit. Within my close circle there is a pretty equal split down the middle this go round. I respect the well-informed and thoughtful opinions on both sides. I care deeply about the issues surrounding this election. I want a leader with heart-felt convictions for justice,wisdom concerning our earth and it's resources, truth, mercy, and the sanctity of all life. Sometimes the greed, corruption and lack of integrity within our government makes me cringe. At the same time I live my days in the light of such blessing, abundance and freedom that many people in the world could only hope for. I don't deserve these things anymore than millions around the world that live in fear and poverty and hopelessness. This leaves me humbled, and prayerful and grateful.
One thing that has been disappointing about this election is how tense and divisive it has become. Wouldn't it be nice if instead of people being so quick to be arrogant and judgemental they took the time to listen and understand despite disagreements. Why do people act like if you don't agree with them politically, you haven't reached their level of enlightenment? Isn't it our right to educate ourselves and vote according to our convictions? There are deeply personal and gut-wrenching issues at hand; poverty, warfare, women in desperate situations, the lives of unborn babies, the list goes on and on. But something tells me that tomorrow, a new day will dawn with a new man in charge and those struggles and tragedies that are part of our humanness will still be with us. So before I hang my hopes on a man who is that, just a man, I take comfort in the fact that before I am an American, a democrat, a republican or anything in between, I am child made in God's image. He alone is my hope for change and salvation. So that is how I voted and how I try to live, true to my calling and my convictions.
He has shown you,O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?
Micah 6:8

Thursday, October 30, 2008

october makes me think of you

Once, I kept a secret all to myself for a whole day. I found myself smiling as I went about my tasks and the sky seemed a little more blue than usual. I was in school and working and I didn't see it coming, but some how I think I had been waiting for you all my life. I liked having this secret of the little life inside me but at the same time I was bursting at the seams. I strolled with Josh in the park that evening and walked hand in hand like so many times before. But I was nervous and giddy and his eyes looked at me curiously like he did when he was falling in love, cause this spirit of joy was just oozing from me. Then we sat in the bright summer sun, my head on his shoulder as I scratched a stick across the sand doodling like a fidgety child. First I drew a little stick figure Josh, with his crazy long curls and then a stick figure me, with long straight hair... and then a little bundle in my He watched in amusement and then looked at me with puzzled shock. I nodded and the tears were lost in our embrace. The life our our first-born had begun in the soft quiet of my womb, we could not have been happier.
We were typical first time parents. There's something about the first, all the mystery and newness that makes ya a little crazy with excitement. I bought you some itty-bitty cool kicks, I just couldn't resist, and we devoured pregnancy and birthing books, and knew just what piece of fruit you were the size of from week to week. He played guitar for you and I sang to you and talked to you. He rested his head on my swelling belly. We talked and planned and prayed on the hope and promise of you.
Then one day they couldn't find your heart-beat and I gazed at the pictures of you, perfectly formed little head and hands and feet but lying there still inside me. I was heart broken. But you didn't leave this world without leaving your print though brief and small as it was. Those months you were inside me, you brought us such joy and the loss of you has left its scar. Just like the little Egyptian box where I keep your picture and letters there is a space in my heart which forever belongs to you. I am a mother of four though I only know three. October makes me miss you and sometimes I say your name and play your song. No matter how many children I have, you are the first one whose presence took away my breath and who I long to hold someday.

On a cool Autumn mountain-side we said good-bye to you and these were some of the words your daddy spoke.
"I'll never forget the day and the way your mom told me about you. She drew us all in the sand; at this I felt wonder, fear, and anticipation. We have spent these months praying for you and wondering who you would be. It truly breaks our hearts to know that we will never know, at least in this world. While there are many questions, your mom and I know that God is holding you now... We love you with all that is in us, and in the light of God, we look forward to that day when all our answerless questions are realized... the day we see you most beautiful son."

Praise to the One who is victorious even over death, to the one who holds you until we can.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

I think it's here...

Fall Song

Another year gone, leaving everywhere
its rich spiced residues: vines, leaves,

the uneaten fruits crumbling damply
in the shadows, unmattering back

from the particular island
of this summer, this NOW, that now is nowhere

except underfoot, moldering
in that black subterranean castle

of unobservable mysteries - roots and sealed seeds
and the wanderings of water. This

I try to remember when time's measure
painfully chafes, for instance when autumn

flares out at the last, boisterous and like us longing
to stay - how everything lives, shifting

from one bright vision to another, forever
in these momentary pastures.

~ Mary Oliver ~

(American Primitive)

The onset of Fall always seems to throw me into a cyclical reflectiveness. I savor the subtle changes, the vibrancy, the moist fragrant scent of leaves returning to soil, the beauty that is present in death. The process inevitably seems synonymous to life and the purging, and stripping, and dying that must take place to bring about renewal and new life. The seasons spur reminders to examine my own heart. So often it is so easy to see what others need to change but hard sometimes to be confronted with our own selfishness, or impatience, or fear.

"To comfort all who that mourn,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified."
Isaiah 61:3

Just some eclectic thoughts, and on the lighter side of things, the kids and I have been up to all kinds of Autumnal fun.

I don't know about you, but I love pumpkin flavored things. These chocolate-chip pumpkin bars are delish and even better with hot, spiced chai. You can find the recipe here.

Some things I can't get enough of lately;
1- this chilly Autumn air
2- reason to wear my favorite sweater
3- Juden's love for people and his imagination
4- the sound of Ella's singing ( she's playing the violin in the picture, obviously)

5- these kissable cheeks