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I know it’s over. The gifts unwrapped and all, and the butter tarts and cookies all eaten. The big boy has already left and so, yes, Christmas Day has come and gone and I suppose I should be moving on.

I’m not quite ready, though.

Even though I plan to take down the tree and pack away the decorations and even though there is nary a crumb of sweet left in the kitchen cupboards. I’m not ready to let it all go.

It was sweet and simple and, I guess, filling. Christmas filled me just right – not overstuffed, not still hungry – and I want to linger in that satisfied place for a while.

So I am. This year, for the first time, I’m doing the twelve days of Christmas, and on Epiphany (January 6) we’ll feast a little and celebrate the visit of the magi and we’ll find some kind of giving way to mark that.

Really, I’ve not heard much about or commemorated these days in any kind of way in the past. And it won’t be much this year. I’ll spend a moment with Liz each day, and remember the babe for a while longer because heaven knows it will be a scant few weeks and we’ll be nailing him to a cross and thinking about all of that.

I’m lingering and listening and loving my people, thankfully and quietly stealing a few more Christmas days, and then maybe I’ll be ready for the new.

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I read it this morning in Luke. The thing that happened in those days, and how the shepherds heard about it. The angel showing up in the middle of the night in the middle of the field in the middle of all those sheep and the glory of the Lord shining around them, and the multitude of angels appearing with their praise and glorifying, and the shepherds were afraid. No kidding.

Not too afraid, though.

Not too afraid to pack up and go see the thing that had happened.

Not too afraid to make haste, or to share with the stable dwellers the message of the angels, or to return to their real lives, glorifying and praising.

I’m afraid, often, of the glory things.

I don’t want to be too afraid, though. Advent is a new baby, a new hope, and the ushering in of a new year. A year to go and to see and to praise and to glorify.

Amen.

I have a middle son, and of all my children he is the most like me, I think. He loves to read and think and process and talk about all the things he reads and thinks and processes.

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On Sunday last, my middle son and I were tourists. He is an incredible fan of history, religious history in particular (at the moment), and he’d been wanting to go to Catholic mass for quite a while. We live in a French/English community, and so finding a workable time to attend English mass had taken some time, but on Sunday morning at 9:00 we were sitting in a pew at the Cathedral, waiting for the service to begin.

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It’s a beautiful building. My son knows its history and the architectural style and that there are other churches in Europe designed by the same architect and they are the spitting image of the one in our little town. He’s studied Catholicism and he knew the priest would be wearing a purple robe because of Advent, and he whispered bits of history and tradition to me throughout the morning.

There was a little man sitting a few rows ahead and to our left, and he was our guide. He was the first to stand or kneel or sit, the first to step into the aisle when it was time to do so, the first to come and shake our hands and offer a peace be with you when it was time to shake hands and offer peace. We watched him and followed his lead, like the tourists we were, and I unobtrusively snapped a few pictures because… tourists.

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I feel like a tourist at Advent. It’s not a familiar experience; we didn’t observe it when I was growing up, but it’s a place I want to see, a journey I want to take. So I read the books and blogs to see how others do it, and I follow the leads of those ahead of me and to my left, the one’s who know what they are doing and for whom it’s all second nature.

I snap a few pictures along the way.

And like a tourist, I find the things that connect me to the experience. Being pregnant. Anticipating a child. Giving birth.

I’m a tourist at Advent, trying to act like I know when to stand or sit or kneel, and I’m stumbling a bit, but the view is still wonderful.

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I should be noticing holy type stuff, because it’s Sunday and all.

I go to church, and it is good. We are late because church is early because of a meeting and it being muffin Sunday, but we are late because there are issues with the goats. And Lyndon is aching with tendonitis and he needs the boys to help him out there, dealing with the goat issues, and so we’re late for the meeting and we have completely missed the muffin and visiting time.

We straggle in, just in time to vote “yes” to the hiring of a part-time interim preacher, and after the all in favour and the obligatory closing prayer, the boys dive into the muffin tray and I join the women at a table to discuss what will we do for ladies class this fall? I like the decision we agree on. We agree to study Jesus, and talk about Him. My kind of bible study.

I’m off to the basement now, to set up my Sunday School classroom, and then upstairs again to sit with my family and some cool teenager friends of theirs and we sing and pray and share bread and wine. The collection basket is being passed and Carter hands it to me, stretching around his dad who doesn’t want to take the basket because, remember, tendonitis, and we drop it. Coins and bills and cheques everywhere and we giggle and gather and pass it on.

Sunday School time and that is fun. The kids are great and we sing the books of the New Testament because we are trying to learn them, and the shy boy answers a question and so does his shy sister, and I feel like that is a victory. We hear them singing the closing hymn upstairs but we are in the middle of a silly game, so we stay and finish and, whew, back upstairs to collect family and say a few hellos and then I’m home again, lunch on the go.

Moose and elk sausage, perogies, baked beans. A fall meal if ever there was one, and we gobble it up, and tidy it up, and oh my goodness, it’s been a busy day already.

I sit down to write these words, and the holy of the day is beyond me. No great study of scripture or meditation comes to mind. There was hardly time to slow, let alone pray, and yet …

Yet, I think, there was holy in there, too. Yes, there was. Not the holy of great ceremony. The holy, instead, of small ordinary. The holy of giving thanks for pancakes, and hugging an away boy who made it home for the day, and preparing food, and teaching babies, and massaging a husband’s sore arm.

These small holies, these are what I’m noticing today.

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Day 6 of 31 Days of Noticing Stuff. To see all the posts in this series, click the link at the top of the page.

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We used to do church at the pig farm.

Our family, their family, and a bunch of boys between us. A gathering, scripture, sharing ideas, sharing a meal … a morning that sometimes stretched to an evening.

We were pretty young then, with the children small and all, and it was a sweet year-and-a-half of fellowship without much obligation. I suppose sometimes it was hard on us, just being us, but mostly it was restful. A church sabbath, in a way.

I remember moving to the new town, and the number of times I was told this: Now you will have a real church to be a part of. I remember the anxiety of those words. I didn’t really want a real church. I liked the simplicity of the pig farm.

I think of it sometimes, in the middle of a busy Sunday.

I don’t know if our pig farm church would have been a long-term option. Maybe, if we’d stayed, we’d have found a “real” church to be part of, eventually. Sunday School and sermons and ladies class.

But, I know the pig farm was what I needed, when I needed it. And it was very, very real.

Maybe I read too much, or not enough. Or, maybe I think too much. Or, you know, not enough. I’m not sure.

I’m seeing much out there these days about the challenge of church (however you define that) to meet the needs of people, mainly young families. Most of the stuff I’m seeing is talking about church as a local body of believers who gather together for worship on Sunday mornings. Traditional, corporate church, I suppose. Sermons and Sunday School.

And the stuff I’m reading is about how hard it is for families with young children to participate in these settings. Kids fuss, make messes, clap, cry, squeal, misbehave. Parents struggle with the dilemma of keeping them in the assembly or taking them out. Or even, staying home till the kids are older and more cooperative.

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Carter sleeping through church at camp

I get it. I really do. I remember it, clearly.

I remember the time I was asked to bring toy cars instead of toy dinosaurs for my boys to play with, as the dinosaurs bothered an older woman who sat behind us.

I remember the Sundays upon Sundays when my husband was at work and I spent my time wrestling with a toddler and a baby and who knows what the sermon was about.

I remember leaving early, in tears.

I remember bringing hot dogs and potato chips to potluck.

I remember chasing a defiant two-year-old through the empty pews at the front of the church, in full, humiliating view of the watching worshippers on the back pews.

I remember being asked not to bring Cheerios into the sanctuary, and to take my dirty diapers home with me, and to please come and get my crying child from his toddler class.

I remember sitting in the cry room, zombie-mom, while my toddler systematically emptied the toy box and my baby nursed, and how disconnected I felt from whatever I thought church was supposed to be. I remember getting up, and leaving the mess, and walking out the door of the building, strains of Leaning on the Everlasting Arms growing faint behind me.

It’s a ridiculous time, this time of raising small children. Ridiculous and challenging and exhausting, and church can seem like an insurmountable Sunday morning mountain to climb, week after week.

Climb, climb up sunshine mountain, faces all aglow … not.

So, what is a church to do?

Here’s the thing. Here’s the hard reality. There’s not much a church can do. I mean, there are children’s programs and the cry room and all …

But, just like in the grocery store, or on a plane, or at your house, if your child is upset or loud or fussing, there’s probably little I can do to help you.

I can shoot you sympathetic eyes. I can offer to take your baby. I can smile at you as you take the screaming toddler to the back of the sanctuary, and I can put my hand on your shoulder as I walk by you on my way to the bathroom as you are walking the halls with your kid who can’t sit still.

I just don’t know what else I can do, except to say, I understand. I love you. I love your baby. I love that you are trying. I love that your children are making noise, and mess, and being cute, and talking in the quiet, and shouting Amen at the end of  every prayer.

Bring all the toy dinosaurs you want. And fishy crackers or Cheerios or apple slices. And those toys that ding, they’re okay, too, if that’s what it takes. And if you are in and out of the room a hundred times, it’s fine.

And know that church, like anything, is challenging for all of us. Trying to be family. It’s hard. As a mom of teens, or a single person, or a young adult, or a widow, or the pastor’s wife. There are mountains to climb, whether you are wearing a baby sling on the journey, or riding a skateboard, or using a walker.

I don’t know what to tell you, except to hang in there. Like parenting in general, parenting at church is a day-by-day, messy, mistake-making, grace-requiring, hand-holding journey.

And when we fail you, and we will, know that it’s hard for all of us at times. And we’re all doing the best we can.

The coyotes are singing up a storm this morning, and as I step out onto the front steps to wave a goodbye to my husband I watch that hawk the kids were telling me about winging low and stealthy over the yard, sending the ladies high-tailing it for the chicken coop. They fight each other for entrance through the gate and mill about inside the fence, anxious and fussing.

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The sun is doing her best and the forecast is fine, and while I’m aware at the edges of my brain that there is danger and duty and plain old difficulty out there at practically every turn, it’s a sweet day on earth. Even the army of fruit flies that has invaded my kitchen can’t raise my blood pressure.

Sometimes, an ordinary day in the midst of it all, in the mess of it all, is the best gift.

Even with the chicken hawk threatening and the coyotes prowling. Even with a mountain of laundry to climb, and children to wake and solve-for-x with, and even with no idea of what supper will be… Even with a thousand things to remember and a brain that struggles with remembering two, and who knows what that name on the calendar was all about, and oops, we might be out of milk, again.

Sometimes an ordinary day in the midst of it all, in the mess of it all, reminds me of how incredibly, amazingly, completely blessed I am.

Because sometimes, the chickens escape and the coyotes vanish and the laundry gets finished and the children find x and forgotten leftovers are discovered in the fridge and the friend calls to remind.

And the boy wakes up with a smile and a hug, and the husband texts love, and the kitten opens her eyes for the first time, and it’s like sugar on strawberries. Sweet on sweet and praise God, he’s in his heaven and all is right with the world.

And even if it doesn’t all work out – and to tell the truth, I’m pretty sure it won’t – he’s still there, and it’s still right, and I’m still blessed.