Sunday, December 31, 2006

Ho, Ho, Holy Night

This was the Christmas that I stopped wanting my kids to grow up. Instead of wishing they'd get easier to manage (visions of them wiping up their own spills dance through my head), I saw everything they did as precious: G. hula dancing her way through the nursery school Christmas concert, K. in crown and bathrobe boldly announcing Caesar's census in the church pageant, and their squeals of delight as packages were torn open, over toothbrushes and ghetto-blasters alike.

Last week I caught them rearranging the nativity set. A tall, slender Father Christmas was standing with the little shepherds. But K. had placed a small plaque with the words "Peace on Earth, Goodwill towards Men" in front of the jolly red figurine. I overheard him telling G., "That's so he'll read it and know that all these people aren't here to visit him."

Longing to see K. stand in awe over how God got in the manger rather than how the elf got up the chimney, when he was 5 years old I snuffed out his Santafication almost before it began.

For whatever reason, perhaps the joy the oh-so-real Twinkle the Tooth Fairy's visits have brought to our home since then, or the way ideals relax with child #2, or the fact that my girl loves fantasy almost as much as her brother loves scientific explanations, I couldn't bring myself to de-elf G.

After we decorated the tree G. said, "We need presents under it. When Santa comes down the chimney....(look of horror spreads across little face)...WE DON'T HAVE A CHIMNEY!" I told her, "You'll still get lots of presents. Santa doesn't need a chimney. He's like the tooth fairy." (No lies there.)

Leading up to Christmas G. had me playing: "You sleep and I'll be Santa filling your stocking." About as many times, she got me playing: "You be baby Jesus sleeping in the manger and I'll be Mary tucking you in." (I enthusiastically encourage all games that require me to sleep.) The magic of Santa didn't overshadowed the miracle.

Just like G.'s hula didn't distract me from "the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay." It pointed me right back to him, with a heart full of gratitude.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

He's God and I'm staff and that comforts me

Last New Year's Eve I said a bold prayer. It just got answered.

On December 31 I reflected on where God had taken me in 2005. Easter '05 marked the end of 10 years of dry ink, 10 years of not even being able to journal, let alone create poetry or stories. (The notable exception being my 125 page thesis on apocalyptic literature. But writing Hebrew transliterations doesn't require the creative powers of the soul; that was primarily a cerebral stretching exercise.)

From whence the creativity and courage sprang at that particular moment I cannot be certain (a miracle of new life perhaps), but the week after Easter I mailed 3 articles to the MB Herald and queried my first profile for Christian Current, a story about FLN. The Herald chose to print one, and I've been in every Christian Current since August '05.

I've always had a longing to belong. It's the reason I lived in the College dorm when my parents' free "B and B" was 15 minutes away, and the reason I joined our church within months of finding it, at a time when church membership is no longer fashionable. As a freelance writer, I have the sense that while editors like my work, they don't quite trust me enough to call me one of their own.

So, last New Year's Eve my prayer was that God would continue to bless my career so that by the time Gemma enters grade one (Fall '08), either the MB Herald, Christian Current, or FLN would ask me to be a permanent staff writer.

10 days later I had an email from FLN.

They liked the stories I had written about them in Christian Current and wondered if I would write press releases for them. On a contract basis, not as staff. "We want to keep you at arm's length for now." A three month contract turned into a year. Working from home turned into sharing an office and eating too many Mennonite honey cookies at coffeebreak.

Today I learned that I will need to shift my schedule a little to accomodate monthly Tuesday morning staff meetings. After all, that's the place permanent part-time staff people belong! (And Gemma's not anywhere close to entering grade one.) When the department director said, "We want to commit to you, invest in you, and think in terms of years, not months, of working together," I was so happy, I actually "tee hee hee hee-d" right in front of my supervisors.

Maybe it wasn't such a bold prayer after all. Maybe God knew where I belonged all along.

And FLN is just a small part of a beautiful plan.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Why carolling meant more to me

Good news: I am no longer afraid of old ladies.

When I worked at a bookstore I must confess I did not serve them well. I cringed when they called me "dear" or patted my hand. When I saw them hunch or tremor, or heard their voices squeak, I felt cold fear, thinking about becoming one of them one day.

The time I spent with my Oma in the hospital before her death helped me see the beauty in age. But it was just last Sunday that I knew I had licked the fear.

Every Christmas our church goes carolling at a nursing home. And every year I dreaded the time after the songs were done when we were supposed to greet the residents. I was uncomfortable just looking them in the eyes.

This year I looked at the women who sang along with us and those who tried to sing but couldn't, and thought, "She was once a 3 year old girl who sang 'away in a manger,' and jabbed her little brother with her elbows as she did the actions."

I had the sense that the residents who didn't recognize their family or respond to their name could still hear Jesus' voice. And I could almost see the angels.

I'm hoping our feeble imitation of the angels we have heard on high renewed some happy childhood Christmas memories for those beautiful souls. Not that I'm throwing out my anti-wrinkle creams anytime soon, but I do believe I'll still be fabulous at 80.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The stop sign on the bus goes round and round in my head

If you're curious, I survived my overloaded week. I took time for my kids, kept up with my housework, even made it to the gym twice, and got all my assigments in on time, without losing any hair. I finished the first draft of my Harry Lehotsky story at midnight on Saturday after over 30 hours of work and congratulated myself for holding it together all week.

Then on Sunday I cracked. I yelled at my kids, overreacted to everything, and cried like a baby.

Confession time: This morning I drove past a school bus that had stopped in the parking lane. I wasn't thumbing my nose at the traffic laws. I wasn't late or in a hurry. I wasn't talking on my cell phone or changing the radio station or trying to spell "flatulence" backwards.

I just forgot to stop.

It bothered me all morning at work. What's wierd is that I felt worse for passing the bus than I did for yelling at my kids. I can accept the fact that I'm selfish, angry and rude, but I can't accept the fact that I make honest goofs. I think it's because I know my ability to cope with anger and stress will continue to grow, but I have no control over silly mistakes....or their consequences.

I've left the coffee pot on all day before - what if the next time I do it burns down my house? What if, the next time I unintentionally say something stupid, it costs me a friend, a job, or my reputation? What if I don't see a 3 year old step behind my car and I back over her?

Deep down I believe that God is in control. He determines the length of our lives. He's the one who gave me my house, my friends, and my job in the first place. But it's still hard to accept that I am so weak and fallible....and to offer myself the same forgiveness that He's already given.

God's grace is enough, not just for the times I cross His limits, but also for the times when I realize my own.