Saturday, December 26, 2015

| m e r r y + b r i g h t. |


* * * M E R R Y   C H R I S T M A S ! * * *

 *      *      *      *

 “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men. And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this great thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.”        

*      *      *      *

When I go back and re-read the chapters of my childhood, I always linger over the ones themed Christmas. My parents were diligent in providing the six of us with memories far more precious than any material gift they could have given, and this year lacked any exceptions.

*      *      *      *

I come upstairs still shivering from the shower and my dad is standing in the kitchen helping my mom commence the preparations of the festal dinner. The air is friendly with the aroma of coffee and my mom’s cinnamon candle, and a brief distance away my two youngest siblings are chattering about the chocolate my mom tucked inside their stockings. We don’t always enjoy the blessing (or in my dad’s practical mind, the curse) of the classic white Christmas, but today the rocky red clay is powered with a liberal dusting and the pines look like someone emptied a bag of powdered sugar over their needles.

In the family room, my little sister and brother squeal with characteristic delight as they discover what Mom chose and Dad funded, concerning the gift factor. My mom in her red dress and silver earrings--the latter a gift from our dad--joyfully distributes the paper-wrapped packages, and my dad relaxes in his chair with his massive red Farmall coffee cup observing the chaos, attempting to look annoyed at the general clamor and the crumpled scraps of wrapping paper on the rug. On occasion one of the kids, yelling out their thanks to Mom, will receive a glance from him and a reminder. “Hey, did you forget who paid for that stuff?”

And then he always smiles, and we know he’s merely amused, not annoyed.

A handful of hours later, my four brothers are demanding when the food preparations will be complete; some the more subtle members of our clan are pilfering samples from the covered casserole dishes on the counter. My mom turns on the radio and scrolls through the stations, and abruptly the strains of “Messiah” intersect the uproar. It’s my dad’s favorite, and he grabs my hand and my waist and initiates an impromptu dance. Who says you can’t dance to the Hallelujah chorus, anyway?


The dinner conversation consists of assorted subjects; my brothers formulating mock plans to capture the fabled Claus and hold him for ransom; my little sister sympathizing for the dogs huddled in ill-disguised envy at our feet; all of us pouring simultaneous accolade on my dad for succeeding again at his legendary stuffing. I paw the camera from its closet corner and attempt to capture the moments in photographs, and my younger brothers seize the opportunity to demonstrate their food in their mouths and contort their faces into vaguely horrific resemblances of the Grinch.

Crazy. Just like all of us, so it’s okay. We’re all family here, literally.

Last night my parents gathered us in the family room to sing the Christmas songs they taught us when we were little, and my dad read the accounts of the Lord’s physical entrance into the world from all of the Gospels that recorded it. We searched the minor prophetic books for predictions of Christ’s birth, and I am reminded that my knowledge of prophecy has waxed rusty. My younger siblings are providing answers at a swifter pace than I am. The revolutions of existence are turning faster than the wheels of my spiritual life, and I realize I need to achieve more moments like this, mining the Scriptures with God.



On social media this morning, I noticed an update from a friend reminding what the reason for the season is. Clichéd, but truth nonetheless. Why the gifts, the festivities, the memories being made? Not for pleasure or tradition. Who provided us with a reason to commemorate today, now that I consider it?

  *      *      *      *

When I was a young teenager, I was surrounded with Christians who repelled the mere mention of Christmas as if it was a gangrenous plague. The Christmas that I was fourteen I refused to appreciate any of my parents’ attempts to create a memorable 25th of December for us. I remember being with several of my friends that December and one of them suggesting that we explore a nearby Christmas craft fair. Another of the girls vehemently repulsed the proposition, and upon being questioned regarding her motives, dealt all of us that ambiguous “duhhhh” expression. “They’re playing Christmas music in there, okay?”
My response, which should have been an emphatic “Good grief!”, was prompt guilt for actually daring to appreciate Christmas music. I didn’t listen to another Christmas song of my own volition for the remainder of the season. Whenever my mom played her favorite harp and flute recordings of those songs I used to love, I coerced myself into ignoring the music.

For anyone shaking their heads and pointing their fingers at such pathetic fear of man, try being fourteen again, but in my adult life I will never apologize to anyone for loving Christmas and believing in its magic again. I don’t celebrate the day for the version of it that modern culture has authored. The world has stolen enough from  believers, but it need not rob us of glorifying God through our observance of December 25th. True, it is hardly likely that the angels made their celestial appearance on December 25th; Christ’s literal birthday could have been any date of the year.

Nonetheless, I'm thankful that my parents instilled within my heart an affection for celebrating December 25th as a day to commemorate Christ’s birth and create memories with my people. I want my own kids to have that, and I will never permit anyone to tell them what I was told as a fourteen-year-old, that Christmas is a sin to be spurned and repulsed. It's a gift, a day to remember the Gift of God that was offered for our redemption.

Christ provided us with a reason to celebrate Himself on December 25th, and on every other day of the year--the greatest present that has ever and will ever be given.

And there’s another gift on my mind, too. My parents provided me with pages of memories to return to, and I’m not going to blush for speaking the truth--some of my favorites are the Christmas ones. 

  *      *      *      *


Friday, November 6, 2015

| hello twenty. |




Mateo, despite your various brutalities, you are a good soul.





*     *     *
Photos are the fruit of sifting once again through the clogged files on my computer, stalking my friends' social media and then nagging them for permission to pilfer their pictures, and succumbing to the cravings to display a *small* fraction of my enthusiasm for quotes.

*     *     *

"Does it feel any different, your not being a teenager anymore?"
I think I told the first person who asked me said cute little question that it stank. It was a pre-caffeine comment, so I enjoy imagining that they pardoned my negativity. After hearing that question about a dozen times, I found a corner of solitude and mentally scrutinized the new digits for about five minutes, then crept back to reality feeling freshly humbled and carrying on my shoulders yet another resolution to emulate maturity. One more objective I can't claim to have achieved yet.


Every time I finally believe I've grasped the definition of a mature adult, and maybe (in my more egotistic moments) even begun producing it more than just on occasion, one of those moments rears its foul head. Some human out there in cyber universe, please permit yourself some honesty and acknowledge that you've been there, felt that. One of those things that suction sentences out of you that you wish you had never said, actions you'd barter your eyeteeth for a chance to erase when said actions are mere seconds old. And maturity looks a thousand mocking miles beyond your reach.

I offer this theory that if maturity, like all of those other platinum traits that Christian young people pursue, were obtained as easily as oxygen, we wouldn't need Jesus more than we need our next breath. When I ponder the gravity of my age married to the number of occasions I still play the child, I taste that need even more than I did as a teenager.



                                                              ~ Photo credits belong to Erin Martin ~

The past year has been cluttered with a thousand firsts, dozens of panic-saturated moments where parroting composure only worked on occasion, dozens more evenings industriously redeemed in a blanket fort eating desserts from a paper plate and texting satisfyingly stupid messages to delightfully ridiculous people, playing Tonka, Little Tykes and Melissa & Doug with toddlers and adoring almost every second of it, moving from Vermont to Texas and from Texas to New Mexico, purchasing a Pomeranian, watching a herd of mustangs gallop through the hills (for real), finally obtaining some sense of order and discipline now that I am twenty (not for real), learning to live at an elevation of over seven thousand feet, consuming ungodly quantities of Mexican food, going to Washington, D.C., acquiring a southern drawl and losing it again, weeping over desperately emotional songs (instigated by a frequent and general shortage of sleep, coffee, and common sense) falling in love, driving an old blue Subaru over forgotten red clay roads (with more or less success) attending the Winter JAM 2015 in Dallas, feeling spiritual blazes ignite at the scenes of revival meetings, seeing Grand Canyon, consuming thousands of calories' worth of Hawaiian pizza and root beer with more delightfully ridiculous people, refining my natural  talent for the mandolin (I wish) squandering my sweat-blood-and-tears-stained-paychecks on white chocolate mocha Starbucks lattes (I'm not going to lie, I don't regret even one of them) eating gelato in a NYC airport and feeling like a hipster, sleeping in a camper for a week with my bestie and half a dozen bags of candy, flying all over creation, complaining about my insane life and then feeling properly chastened upon the realization that, while not even attempting to be flawless, it is nothing less than beautiful, and dreading the big 2-0.

Okay, twenty, you're a force to be reckoned with. And I'm ready to take you on.

Actually, not even.

I need Jesus in my life. Now more than yesterday, or three and a half weeks ago, or six years ago, or the day I turned ten or thirteen.

And the good news is- He's been waiting for me, all this time. Every time I permit arrogance and self-importance a corner of lodging in my heart, that same heart is brutally swift in producing thoughts and responses that demonstrate how illegitimate that arrogance is. More often than not my own anger or spite (oh, why do those two words have to sound so repulsive?) are the convenient tools that God uses to reveal to me just what a sinner I am. God has drenched the past fifteen months with blessings upon blessing, but how swiftly my flesh crosses its arms and whines about all it doesn't clutch between its already laden hands at the moment. On occasion my honest mama has looked me in the eye and politely spoken her mind. "Hannah, you're being a brat." And the arrogance embedded in my human nature shrieks that such is not even possible.
Which merely serves to prove that duh, of course it is.

If life has taught me anything, it would be that 1) fabricated perfection is a waste of time and energy and a variety of dishonesty, and 2) that people who are only attracted to manufactured faultlessness exist in nirvanas of their own devising. I'm not going to offer you a cyber resume of my spiritual gifts, my various talents, my sundry accomplishments, my charming personality (hah), my cool friends, my exemplary self-portrait of a Christain young woman. Hello, my name is stubborn and moody and cynical and oh, so faithless, and instead of lamely attempting to convince God, myself, and humanity that I am by nature anything otherwise, I prefer the relief that comes by painfully whispering to the Lord every time I blow it, "I know I'm rotten to the core, and more than that, I know You still love me."

And that's where September 2015 found me. Still failing, still loved, and (hopefully) still learning.

Hello, twenty. Let's do this.

"No matter how far you are,
No matter how dark your past
His arms are always open
There is a home for the broken
All the words that He has spoken are true . . .
You are fully known by the Author of space and time
He won't let you go and He won't change His mind . . .
No, He cannot change His mind."

"Fully Known" ~ JJ Heller

 P.S. How in the world did this get so long?


Sunday, November 1, 2015

| be genuine. |

She extricates herself from beneath the blankets at six in the morning, drained of energy and enthusiasm for the virgin day because of excessive hours the previous evening texting and prowling social media. She's frazzled about work and the knots she needs to tie with too-short strings. Two cups of coffee isn't providing her with adequate strength to smile. Her conscience shakes a pointed finger at her, offering yet another reminder of the dust layering her Bible.
And once again, she whispers the clichéd apology. At least, the number of occasions upon which it has crossed her mouth loan it a clichéd flavor. She gnaws on her tongue until the salt of blood stings her jaw, recalling her clique of acquaintances at her church and the perfection that fits their personalities like a tailor-made garment.
Whenever she attempts to don that same garment, she finds that it falls off before she can parrot it for so much as ten minutes.
She's sorry she’s so lacking, sorry for the failures that paint her personality in repulsive colors. She's thirsty for change, and she wants Jesus to know it.
Nonetheless, she has a schedule to survive. A thirty-minute commute to complete. And she forgets to tell Him.
The job fulfills every black and blue detail her intuition forecast. It sucks at her patience, pulling it apart one segment at a time until she locks herself into a bathroom stall and allows herself to cry. Just for ten minutes. And that moment of permitting her emotions a release resuscitates her patience, or a portion of it, at least.
Three in the afternoon shuffles its tardy feet into her life, and she takes the freeway home, reflecting on the bruises the past eight hours dealt her, and upon her scantily camouflaged reactions to them. Her soul screams for the poise and maturity she tastes in the faces, in the speech, in the smiles of her friends. Craves it like oxygen. Feels her blatant insecurities like daggers in her gut, every conscious moment.
And she can’t seem to loosen those knives. Can’t force herself to fit the mantles of faultlessness. No matter how much she bleeds with each fresh attempt.
She locks herself into her bedroom at home-- the one location where she doesn't feel vulnerable--  and logs into her social media accounts. She wouldn’t confess a syllable of the truth even to herself, but she finds solace for her self-doubt in those profiles. Every time she studies her own plastic smile in her likeness on those internet pages, she feels that she’s claimed a fragment of that elusive, glittering flawlessness.
It comforts her. And she could use some comfort at the moment.
She begins typing. And the words form on her screen easier that she wants to admit. As if wearing the deception is slowly becoming a part of the person that she is. “Praising the Lord for another sweet and beautiful new day. I’m finding myself thankful for so many blessings right now. . . the Lord is grafting so much character into my life, teaching me more about Himself every day. I am so blessed, and I am rejoicing in this the most beautiful life I could possibly have been given."
For a hundred seconds, as she stares at the sentences on the screen, she almost believes them, and she concludes the paragraph with a scripture. “Who can find a virtuous woman . . .  for her price is far above rubies.”
And she has just composed the fictional character she yearns to become. Not who she is. But the description she craves to claim, despite every day freshly defiled by her own humanity.
Later, the feedback begins, flowing from her collection of friends. The ones from whom beauty and virtue pour so abundantly, so naturally. The people she would sacrifice her own blood to resemble, even if only for one day.
“This is so sweet. How wonderful. I was so blessed.”
And, for the first time since she vacated her bed that morning, she feels that she’s finally done something right.

*      *     *
Many months and solitary tears later, she reviews her social media and locates the rose-colored, paper-thin post that she had created. Beautiful, in the manner that an artificial flower is beautiful. Lovely to look at, but lacking the fragrance of a living, breathing thing.
She can’t help but smile, just for a sliver of a second.
Fiction was the only language I knew then.
She doesn’t need the internet as a crutch for her confidence anymore. Doesn't need the self-satisfaction it barters in exchange for dishonesty. She possesses more than fools' gold now, a buoyancy that thrives minus the sanction of mere people.
 She closes the page and inhales a mountain-sized breath, conscious of the human creature that she is. And grateful for it.
How else would she have discovered her daily need for the Lord, but not for her sin?
“God, thank You for showing me that You love me despite my sin. Despite the undeniable truth that I’m a human being. And that Your love and Your acceptance is all that I need.”
She knows that the world will find fault with the flawed, raw human being that she is, that there will always be some arrogant individual who prefers fiction to fact and who will reject the candid version of her. And more even than that, she knows that her Savior does not condemn her. She need not forge any plastic perfection for Him.
And, because of that, she need not forge any for another human being, either.

  *      *      *

 Are we honest before Christ and our fellow brothers and sisters, or do we attempt to impress them with self-righteousness and declarations of a golden existence?

Who are we to attempt to convince the world that we are perfect, or that our existences are privileged by an absence of stains and scars?

Are we genuine?


Monday, September 7, 2015

| in which we successfully demolished a bucket of sprinkles. |


*      *      *

And in two little girls' eight-year-old imaginations, I tend to doubt that a Sunday afternoon could be better spent than creating and consuming sugar and calories in their most colorful form.

It almost makes me lonely for the eight-year-old I used to be, the girl with a tousled ponytail dangling into the frosting bowl, mouth liberally plastered with rainbow confetti and a spoon in both hands.

Yup, that was me. Back when diets were just a word without a definition.

But pretending for an afternoon with these two munchkins didn't hurt my feelings any.

Sprinkles are awesome.

Especially when they turn little girls' tongues rainbow.

Especially when we all start laughing about our rainbow tongues til our sides throb.

When it's time to break out the vacuum and erase the rainbows on your mom's kitchen tiles, not so much.

Advice for the depressed at heart: Create crazy sprinkle messes with two kids and try to gauge the speed at which they consume it. It's a remedy that works every time.


Sunday, August 16, 2015

| these are my people. |

Organizing the disorganized files on the family computer's overcrowded hard drive involved the discovery of family shots covering the past year. The cliche that repeatedly wormed its way into my mind as I examined each one happened to be, "My family tree is full of nuts."
However, I've been told that nuts can be a very enjoyable variety of food sometimes, so maybe the comparison isn't so negative, actually.
During the course of texting my bestie tonight, I was casually informed by her that much change could possibly occur in the following year. I doubt if it could involve more change than the previous one did; two moves across the country, two job changes, two church changes, and on the list drags its tired feet.
But whatever those unpredictable switches happened to be, and whenever they happened to occur, and whatever my teenage-female, overly-emotional, deprived-of-sleep reaction happened to involve, these people never decided that my back wasn't worth watching. They never forgot to text me good morning. They never stopped reminding me not to eat too much sugar. The last probably being the most necessary and the most legit. Some of them ditched the reminder and plunged into the overindulging with me. Ah. There's nothing quite like a partner in crime.
I love these people. I'm addicted to their insanity, which happens to reflect my own more often than my "mature" self would enjoy confessing. Even when they'd probably relish punching me in the face, they still love me.

                              And I always did consider nuts on the awesome side.