Archives for December 2006

‘Tis the Season…

Monday evening, Christmas Day, 2006

It’s been a quiet Christmas at Lake Woebegon. A lovely Christmas, in its own way, but a quiet one, nonetheless. We gathered with our kids on Saturday night, at our daughter’s home in Monrovia, 2 hours south of here. Eric, Rachel and Grace had safely packed, shipped off their belongings from east coast to west and landed in Long Beach the afternoon before. Mark had further medical tests that same day, Lisa and Joy took my mom out to a Christmas tea at the Huntington Library, and Dick and I had worked quietly at home in preparation for our long day south. I say quietly – that’s excluding the sound of the jackhammer ripping out (v-e-r-y, very s-l-o-o-o-w-ly) the marble floor tiles I have despised since we purchased this house almost 10 years ago. (Marble is cold, hard and unforgiving – to fine china and small children. We will soon have hardwood flooring throughout.) And, of course, we waited most of that day for the electricians to re-connect our internet service, our exterior lights and the tv in our bedroom – all of which disappeared from service the day before. Only the first of many such small mishaps over the next few months, I’m sure.

We gathered as an immediate family Saturday night, already stuffed and over stimulated from an earlier-that-same-day gathering with my mom, my brothers and my sister-in-law, niece and nephew. It was delightful to all be together – for the first time in two years – and we all enjoyed watching the babies toddle their way through the happy confusion.

Griffin is 15 months old, very attached to mom but willing to make friends, if you give him enough time. His lovely strawberry blond hair is growing in to form an interesting sort of mohawk effect.

Gracie is 14 months old, very social and tries her darnedest to charm the socks off every single person in the room. She also sports one of the spiffiest bed-heads since her father was a wee one. (She’s just up from a long nap – jet-lag, don’t you know – in these shots.)

We had had Italian food with the larger clan and everyone was stuffed by the time we celebrated together, so we just went straight for all those presents. The 8 years olds in our midst each received 3 different Star Wars light swords from various family units and proceeded to light-slice their way through the house while the rest of us enjoyed the rest of the gift-opening a little bit more quietly. It was a good day, all of us glad to be together in one space again. We headed for Santa Barbara around 8:45, tired and grateful.

Christmas Eve was a busy and beautiful day, with a single morning service and a brief candlelight service at 5:00. I was probably the only person who really missed serving communion by candlelight, but was still moved to tears by the lifting of our lit candles during the last verse of “Silent Night.” Dick and I had lunch at the Samarkand with his mom, so enjoyed soup and fresh pears for our Christmas eve supper.

Today was the quietest of all. Just the two of us this morning, sleeping in a little, enjoying the treat of Jeannine’s scones and homemade hot chocolate for breakfast, then taking Dick’s Mom out for a delicious turkey dinner on the pier at 1:00 p.m. It was a gloriously beautiful day and we enjoyed watching the birds and the sailors whilst we ate. We took Mama home and then drove downtown for a 3:30 showing of “The Pursuit of Happyness,” an excellent and heartwarming story which seemed appropriate for today somehow. And it’s been a quiet evening, restful and relaxing.

Tomorrow the jackhammer starts again, and we may try to take in one more flick before we check in at work on Wednesday. In the meantime, we’re enjoying the sweetness of quiet for a little while longer.

Here’s a look at our space as of now:

The kitchen, looking east, toward the hall and backyard.

The kitchen, looking into the living room. This entire doorway and wall will come out once the furnace ducts are moved tomorrow.

The family room, down to the studs, looking toward where the new laundry room will be built and the door opened to the new garage. We’re trying to salvage these two banks of cabinets for use in the new garage. We put all other old cabinets into the dumpster.

A brief addendum: as of 10:21 a.m. Tuesday the 26th, there are NO workers in view. Sigh.

A second brief addendum: as of 10:35 a.m. Tuesday the 26th, 2 faithful furnace fixers showed up and worked hard all day, clearing out the no-longer-needed-ducts and reconfiguring our existing furnace for shorter distance coverage without burning up. :>) Maybe tomorrow, we’ll cut through the remaining beams/walls.

Glimpses of Heaven

Do you ever have one of those liminal moments when you feel as if you’ve been given a peek at a new kind of reality? A momentary glimpse of life as God intended it to be lived? Those kind of moments fall like gifts into our laps – and they almost always take us by surprise. I had one of those moments this morning, during worship.

It had been a busy week, a good week, with meaningful work to do, small evidences of progress being made on our home remodel, sweet moments of connection with my husband and my kids. And then we found ourselves invited out to three different Christmas gatherings – three nights in a row. That almost never happens to us. Thursday brought a Swedish smorgasbord at the lovely, large apartment of long time, older friends. About 15 people, some of whom we’ve known for 30 years or so, enjoyed Swedish meatballs, rice pudding, baked beans and homemade spritz and pepperkakor. Friday brought a last minute invitation to the home of a former colleague, a true helpmate when times were tough in the last couple of years. Spare ribs and twice-baked potatoes eaten in a brightly decorated, neat and tidy home. Last night was our staff Christmas gathering, hosted by a dear friend and her husband (and her mom, who lives upstairs and who opened her home to us all for dessert). We laughed and relaxed together, filled with gratitude for friendship as well as partnership.

So, the week was full. I was the preacher this morning, and in and around the various responsibilities of home and church, I pieced together a cohesive message that was received well. As always, there was more to be said than I could manage to pull together, but 20 minutes is enough! Every once in a while when I’m preaching, I have one of these moments I’m talking about. A glimpse of God actively at work in and through me, a brief moment of clarity when the power of the Word takes me outside of myself. Today was not one of those days. But still… there was such a moment… an arresting, transporting, heavenly moment…

It happened during the lighting of the Advent candle in our second service. The family who had planned to do it had to drop out due to the unexpected death of a dearly loved relative, so I had to scramble to find a replacement. There is a family new to our congregation, people I don’t yet know well, but whom I find to be welcoming and real. They said yes immediately. This is a blended family – I’m not sure which children came into the family with which parent – but they are bright, friendly, cooperative kids. And their parents have jumped in with both feet, offering to help in wonderful, practical, much-needed ways. We are glad and grateful that they’re here and I was looking forward to their leadership.

As the piano played softly in the background, the littlest girl lit our 3rd candle (gently aided by the dad of the house). The mom, in her lilting French accent, led in our responsive reading from Isaiah. She read so simply, so beautifully, that my eyes began to fill with tears. Everyone else sang two verses of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” while I waited for my throat to open – and then … it happened.

The three oldest children, two boys and a girl, stepped to the microphone. The tallest boy read the heading of the next section of the litany – “A Child’s Prayer for Advent – written by Martin Luther” – and then all 3 of them read together, clearly and perfectly:

Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child,
Make thee a bed, soft, undefiled,
Within my heart, that it may be
A quiet chamber kept for thee.

Gazing at these three lovely children, listening to their beautiful unison reading, it suddenly seemed as if the air in front of me was electrically charged and for just the briefest moment, all those molecules reconfigured themselves in such a way that I was able to peer inside the gates of heaven itself. In the blink of an eye, I was transported. Pure, sweet voices offering words of worship to the infant Savior. A glimpse of heaven, a glimpse of home. Oh, thank you!

Do “Clothes Make the Man?”

Maybe Mark Twain was right. The full quotation concludes with these words: “Naked people have little or no influence on society.” A generalization, to be sure, but perhaps an apt one? This quote was discovered when throwing out the wide inter-net for some research on clothing and the Bible. In the process, I found a couple of very interesting sites, including one for Christian nudists. Who knew??

The reason for this sudden interest in all things sartorial? I am this week’s preacher and our text for Sunday is Isaiah 61, where in verse 3 and then again in verse 10, the prophet waxes rhapsodic about the new clothes God provides his beloved children.

“to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.”
“For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

What is it about new clothes? Most especially really beautiful, very dressy or highly symbolic new clothes? I asked our staff for their memories of clothing items that had struck a particularly strong emotional chord in them. Answers ranged from logo-laden t-shirts given for successfully managing a difficult training session, to a liturgical stole, beautifully imprinted by a loving partner, to a wedding dress or an academic hood which each signalled a change in identity and purpose for the wearer. It seems that clothing carries some pretty heavy emotional and psychological freight.

And perhaps it has always been so. Adam and Eve instinctively covered themselves with hastily stitched together greenery once they had availed themselves of the forbidden fruit. God helped them do a better job of it by providing animal skins for warmth and protection in the world outside the garden which was now theirs to inhabit. Jacob gave his favored child a special coat, which coupled with his own rather innocent air of braggadocio, got him in a heckuva lot of trouble; that same son grew up to be the Grand Vizier of the Egyptian empire and was so well hidden behind that office’s clothing and paraphernalia that his own family did not know him. The levitical code outlined in great detail the attire to be worn by the priests when on duty in the tabernacle. The giving of his cloak by the prophet Elijah was part of ‘passing the torch’ to his successor, Elisha. King David danced before the ark wearing only his loincloth which horrified and shamed his wife. King Solomon “in all of his glory” was richly robed and adorned. Angelic messengers are consistently described as being garbed in white, often a dazzling white. Our Lord had an outer garment which was seamless and triggered the interest of the Roman guards at his deathsite. The apostle Paul uses the imagery of being clothed with Christ, or with the new person in Christ, in at least 3 of his epistles. The company of the redeemed as described in John’s vision of heaven are all dressed in white robes. All of which leads to the inevitable conclusion that clothing (or the lack of it) does signify important truths in the pages of scripture.

So, as I pull my clothes on today, am I also aware of the garment of righteousness, of salvation, of praise that is mine to wear every day? Is it visible – to me and to others? Which set of clothes makes the woman? Does the symbolic set influence the physical set in any way?

And, for the last installment….

This is my sixth attempt to post the last three pictures from last night’s pageant. Something is definitely wacky this a.m. Hopefully, these will be viewable without bleeding over into the previous posting. Any advice on how to avoid this would be sincerely appreciated.

Christmas Pageant, Series Two

I have learned some hard lessons about this blogging stuff in the last 24 hours. An individual blog can only handle so many pictures before it bleeds into the previous one once posted. And…it’s much easier to tell a photo story if you start at the end of the story with your pictures. Geez Louise, what a lot of time spent on not much. At any rate, here are the next seven pictures from our lovely Children’s Pageant last night. The last three will be posted in the next blog. :>)

Do You See What I See?

A birthday party for Jesus, that’s what we enjoyed tonight. The children of Montecito Covenant Church put on a smashing party, including some of the most heartfelt drama we’ve ever enjoyed. The pageant preceded a supper and the entire evening was capped off by sharing a big birthday cake for baby Jesus. It was fun, it was festive, it was creative and it told us the story from the children’s point of view. What could be better than that??

Advent Blues…

The pictures above are of our current ‘kitchen,’ ‘pantry,’ dining room,’ sitting/T.V. room and office space for my husband, only the latter two purposes the ones for which the space is designed. As you’ll note, it’s pretty much all in one room, with the actual cooking taking place in the adjacent bathroom. To tell you the truth, it’s a little bit grim, especially as we move further into the holiday season.

Seen below are photos of the spaces that used to be our living room, kitchen and family room, now shorn of furniture and carpeting, awaiting the sledge hammers of the demolition crew which will begin their thunderous and dusty work on Monday morning.

The corner by the fireplace in the living room is where our Christmas tree would be located, in a normal year. The piano, which is now safely out of harm’s way in the entry hall, of all places, would be down the steps, used frequently for carol-playing and chord-banging by our grandkids. The wooden chandelier in the kitchen would be festooned with greenery and velvet, the family room would look cheery with red and green distributed widely.

This year, that Christmas spirit is tough to find! Two poinsettias on the front porch and a tree in a pot, ordered from Jackson & Perkins, but not yet here – that about covers it for 2006.

Which is why I was glad to be a worker bee for a little while this morning while some decorating was happening at our church. (Not that I did any actual decorating, of course, but I’m handy with a broom. )

Did you know that blue (or purple) is the color for this season of the year? The liturgical color, that is. Our wreath at church has four fat blue candles with a larger white Christ candle in the center. The beautiful sanctuary Bible, a gift from a parish family, is open to an illustration with rich shades of blue and red. The courtyard, the pergola/coffee area and the sanctuary (pictured below, courtesy of Don Johnson’s MCC blog) all look stunning. The sanctuary, with fresh greens of all kinds hanging from every sconce and decorating every flat surface, looks particularly festive. There are white lights on the 3 trees (just like the three bears, we have one large, one medium, one small) and lovely clear glass icicles hang from every branch. The tallest tree has a softly colored gold star atop and here and there, sheer gold ribbons shimmer. It looks truly lovely, and as we move into the last two weeks of Advent, a few more decorative items will be added to the space, helping us to picture what it means to wait. For waiting is our theme for this Advent season. Waiting for God to visit our world, to visit us, to help us, to save us from ourselves.

Although the new film, The Nativity, has a bit more Francis of Assisi and Hallmark going for it than actual gospel narrative, it does get some things really right. Like the tyranny of the Roman government, the paranoid lunacy of Herod and his son and the relative squalor into which the Savior was born. The clothes (and the feet) of these people got dirty and stayed dirty. The implements for daily living and comfort were basic and minimal. Travel was arduous and exhausting. Living spaces were crowded for most people, with privacy an unheard of luxury. Makes our back room look positively opulent, even with its piles of stuff.

Stuff we’ve got a lot of, just not much space to spread it out in these days. We’re giving away lots of furniture and we’ve weeded out many unused items, with more of that weeding still to come, I’m sure. And yet, we have so much. Jesus and his parents had so little. How remarkable that God would choose to come to us in such a way. Born to a captive people in a forgotten hill town, sent a-wandering to preserve his young life, given parents who were faithful but genuinely puzzled about all that happened to them. It still amazes me, even when I’m feeling those ‘Advent blues,’ I still give thanks for the season and for our remarkable Savior, whose coming remains a mystery and a wonder.


Waiting for the phone to ring,
the note to come,
the tears to start.

Waiting for the sun to rise,
the day to begin,
the smile to flash.

Waiting for the rain to come,
for clouds’ release,
for seeds to burst.

Waiting for the baby’s kick,
the toddler’s step
the ‘tweener’s lope.

Waiting for the first dance,
the sweet surprise,
the magic touch.

Waiting for the teacher’s nod,
the boss’s applause,
the bonus check.

Waiting for travel days,
for new horizons,
for old favorites.

Waiting for cars to budge,
for traffic to flow,
for life to break through.

Waiting for doctors’ news,
for treatment woes
for future hopes.

Waiting for death to come,
for pain’s release,
tired eyes to close.

We wait, we wait, we wait.
And all the while, we truly wait for…

Even when we don’t know it,
Even when we don’t want to know it,
Even when we refuse to know it.

We wait for Jesus.

In Praise of Pelicans

Yesterday I had lunch near the pier in Goleta. It was one of those incandescent days – bright blue skies, strong fall sunlight. After my lunch partner returned to work, I stayed by the beach for a while. I read from an Advent devotional, sent a few brief prayers/sighs heavenward and just sat there, drinking in the view. For the birds had come out to play, you see, and that view was pretty remarkable.
There were several groups of pelicans, divebombing for a late lunch, and I was dumbfounded with admiration.
Pelicans are large, rather ungainly looking birds when sitting on the pier – huge beaks, large webbed feet and a wingspan wider than many human beings are tall. If those wings are even partially open while they try to walk, they begin to list like a sinking ship. They make no sounds at all – I guess that huge fishing beak leaves no room for a voice box – but boy, whenever they’re in the air – the show is on!
They can soar without moving a muscle for what seems like miles at a time. Or they can skim, just inches above the water, looking for their next meal. They can land on or take off from the water in the blink of an eye, making the swirling waves look like solid ground.

When the day is beautiful – as yesterday surely was – they can climb about 30 feet above the waves and scout out a tasty morsel in the clear waters below, then make a stomach-dropping plummet, quickly bouncing buoyantly to the surface with a beakful. It is wonderful to watch.

I have long been fascinated with these strange, shoreline creatures, probably because there is something ancient, almost primeval about them. Our California brown pelicans look like a strange mixture of leftover parts from God’s design lab – part dinosaur, part sea bird. Surely such a creature could not be eloquent, graceful, even beautiful. And yet they are.

Proving once again that noise is not required for beauty to shine. In fact, pelicans are a reminder to me that silence has a unique beauty all its own. Pelicans can soar and skim and dive. They can do exactly what they’re designed to do and they can do it really, really well.

How lovely it would be if God’s human creatures could do what they are designed to do – to worship God with whole and holy hearts, to live in soulful companionship with one another, to work for the joy of it, and to cease from work regularly so that quiet can provide the ballast that is needed to keep the ship afloat.
Help us, O Lord, as we move into the Sabbath tomorrow and as we gather at your table, to become – just for a minute or two – who we really are. And to be who we really are… really, really well.