Senior Symposium Presentation

I wrote about my baby last week – my senior thesis, capping off at 120 pages on a womanist/feminist interpretation of the Christian Liturgical year. While ten minutes feels like an inch of what i had to say, here’s the presentation i gave at the Senior Symposium on Friday, should you like to watch it!

You might want to turn up your volume to hear. Many thanks to Alex (whom i reference in the film as having presented right before me on God and the Holocaust) and Nora for filming!

Baby Announcement

My baby weighs a couple of pounds, sitting at precisely 115 pages now. No trimmings yet; all bare bones, the introduction and the chapters and the endless endnotes. I was in labor for eight months.

I quit doing an honors thesis last fall. Even though i’d written about it, thought about, planned its length and topic since i first walked on Skinner Green. The pressure was too much, the culture of no-sleep and endless-stress that seemed part and parcel of writing such a monster completely unappealing. Especially because my therapist and i had worked so long on me learning to let go and let God. (Well, my phrasing. She’s not from North Carolina.)

It was a release. My advisor, Jane, told me to just keep reading, keep writing small papers, and we would just do an independent study. That seemed perfect: i got to indulge my craving for womanist theology whilst foregoing the purple-eyed haze everyone else seemed to be in.

Until.

It was just before Thanksgiving, and my backpack was plump with books on Jesus and womanism published in the last five years. I rattled off summaries, drawing my breath to talk about a womanist Christology when -

“Has nothing changed?” Jane stared me down. She’s got that deadly mix of Steel Magnolia and a feminism born in the 1960s. My stomach plummeted.

Everything i was talking about – the need to understand Christ as gender-full, as embodied in the faces of people of color and not just a white guy with a splendid beard – it wasn’t, well, new. More nuanced, yes, but nothing too drastically different than Kelly Brown Douglas or Jacquelyn Grant in the 1980s. Critiques of masculine God-language go back a long ways, farther than even Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1848.

Her question plagued me the whole break. It wasn’t just a question of research: this project had always been more personal than that. It was a fundamental push against the anthem of change, the promise that feminism and Christianity were working, in inches, but working, towards a better beloved community.

And then i was back on the thesis track.

I’ve worked since then to answer her question, but instead of taking the usual de-constructive route (tackling a thinker or ideology and ripping it to feminist killjoy pieces) i’ve undertaken a project i see as re-constructive: writing an interpretation of the Christian Liturgical Year through a feminist/womanist lens. It’s in its final phases now, one enormous PDF waiting for copyedits and Jane’s last Southern-sensibility-critique.

On Friday, at 2:15, i’ll be presenting on my baby as part of the Mount Holyoke Senior Symposium. (More logistics here, under “Religion”) I would love it if you’re around and wanted to come here a piece of the story that led to this project, and why i think it is a meaningful discourse for feminists/womanists of faith to be having.

In her recent interview with Micha Boyett (fellow Talking Taboo contributor!) Erin Lane asks Micha why her new book Found was the book she wanted to “birth out into the world.”

While my thesis is by noooo means a full-length book, i love this imagery of the book as a child. As something you create and love and then have to let go, and let God.

And let me tell you, it’s been one hell of a pregnancy.

The Choice in the Valley

Sermon, March 30th, All Saints’ Episcopal Church, South Hadley, MA.

Readings: John 9: 1 – 41, Psalm 23, Ephesians 5:8 – 14, and 1 Samuel 16:1 – 13

10152680_2252741083333_490793048_nIt was only after my own grandmother passed away, almost exactly a year ago, that i began to really appreciate MaMa.

MaMa is as vibrant and as strong as the red North Carolina clay she was raised on. I remember when we first met: i had gone to my now-fiancé’s hometown to meet his extended family. I was immediately grateful then for how easily she beckoned me into their family, her matter-of-fact country sensibility making me feel right at home.

I had loved MaMa from the moment we met, but in that sad irony of not knowing what you have until it is gone, it was only really after the loss of my own grandmother that i began to deeply appreciate her presence and gift in my life.

MaMa and I share a birthday week, so the family threw us a joint birthday party. Holding her hand and blowing out the candles was the best way to enter my twenty-first year. We began talking on the phone more frequently, our visits lasting longer. She became a grandmother to me of her own right: truly the woman i turned to when i was sick and needed a recipe for chicken-and-rice or needed that Steel Magnolia reassurance that things were, really, going to work out.

And then in October, MaMa fell off a stool and broke both her leg and her wrist. Lying, immobile, in the hospital, she received the results from a biopsy done the week before.

She had cancer. For the third time.

It felt like the kind of melodrama found in only the most lavish of soap operas. Except it was real, excruciatingly real. My fiancé and i sat in her hospital room, beholding a woman as strong as the red North Carolina clay plugged into a machine: fragile and in pain. She would not be able to start any cancer treatment until her leg healed, and that alone would take months.

We knew we were simply at the beginning of a long walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

That line is taken from our Psalm today, Psalm 23, and it is easily one of the most famous in the Bible. I have heard it read at funerals and in hospital rooms much like the one MaMa sat in last October. The whole verse is this: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me, your rod and your staff- they comfort me.”

As I prepared for this sermon, i repeated this verse to myself, over and over again. As i did so, i could not rid myself of the image of MaMa in that hospital room. Of MaMa, and all who love her, walking together through the valley of the shadow of death.

She has started Chemo now, which has made her feel like she has an endless case of the flu. It is hard to feel like our family is fighting this cancer when even the medicine makes her feel sick.

When i talk to MaMa on the phone now, i am tempted to stay in the valley. I want to stay in the anger, the pain, the chaos that comes with the inexplicable question: why does a God of mercy let such suffering happen?

It is the ultimate question each one of us asks. In times of divorce, of death, of sickness, of depression, of loss.

But the psalmist does not leave us in the valley. The last line of this psalm is this: “and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.” Even in the midst of deep sorrow, the psalmist is singing praises to God.

Psalms historically were often sung – a practice we continue even this very morning. I find singing especially symbolic when talking about sadness. As one of my favorite theologians, Nadia Bolz-Weber, writes, “singing in the midst of evil is what it means to be disciples.” *

Singing in the midst of evil is what is means to be disciples.

Our Gospel today is a story of a man who has borne a terrible illness and been, miraculously, healed. And yet all around him, the Pharisees and even his own parents are full of fear at the miracle of his healing. And their fear turns to anger, as the Pharisees convene to discuss the “sinfulness” of the healing: that Jesus healed this man on the Sabbath day.

Jesus did not follow the Pharisees rules. He did not perform a miracle at a prescribed time, he did not wait for permission to reach out and be with someone in pain.

God’s miracles do not follow our rules.

This works two ways:  the first is that God breaks our assumptions about when we can do right, and God breaks our assumptions about who is saved and who is sinful. Sometimes I think it is easy to blame the Pharisees, to think they were too blinded by their own prejudice to see Jesus. But we, too, can be the Pharisees.

God’s miracles do not follow our rules.

The second way this works is, i think, is much harder to stomach. God does not perform miracles on our time. And this means that as angry as i may be that it was a blind man and not MaMa who crossed Jesus’ path that day – as grieved as i may be that her healing process is breaking her wide open – i cannot force God to fix her.

But I can choose to sing the Psalm.

I can sing praise to God even whilst living in the valley of the shadow of death.

Paul tells us in our Ephesians reading today that “once you were in darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of the light.”

As the blind was made to see, we too can learn to see in our suffering. This does not mean that suffering is mandated by some bearded man in the sky. But suffering provides us with a choice: we can choose to dive into those layers of our human experience, emotion, and connection, or choose to become bitter and angry.

We must choose, as Paul writes, to live as children of the light. We must choose to see God’s work in our lives, even when we feel God is absent. And we need each other in this process. MaMa told me the other night she would not be able to face chemo without the prayers and helping hands of her loved ones surrounding her.

In all three of these intertwined texts today I think there is one crucial theme: God does not abandon us in our darkness. God does not leave us in the valley, God invites us to live as people of the light, God does not abandon the blind man.

When the disciples first see the blind man, their first question to Jesus is: who sinned to make this man blind, him or his parents?

Jesus replies: neither.

Jesus saw the man as a human being with an affliction, not as an affliction attached to a human being. Jesus saw a human being suffering in a way no one else around this blind man could see.

Jesus broke all our rules to walk with us. Jesus broke all the rules by inhabiting a human body and suffering with us, as i know God is suffering with MaMa. God does not abandon us in the valley – and God’s presence with us is not dependent on our ability to feel God’s presence.

For though God’s miracles do not follow our rules, God is always, always, performing miracles in our lives.

Amen.

* Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & a Saint (New York: Jericho Books, 2013), 201.

(I’ve had an internship at a local church for the academic year, and several of y’all have asked to read my sermons, and i figured this was the easiest place to share. Thanks!)

A Little Bit of a Rebel.

I remember when i was given the dress: black, capped sleeves and a full, hoop-ish skirt that looked both bohemian and bona fide all at once. Mom had taken Granny shopping and i, insolent, was dragged along to Coldwater Creek.

Not prime hunting grounds for a fourteen-year-old.

While Granny picked out her usual sweaters with mom and the attendant, i amused myself by trying on the dress. I didn’t expect to like it, and even less did i expect to open a box with the black dress tucked inside for Christmas that year. Granny had seen me prancing in front of the dressing room mirror and Mom had helped her tuck it inside her stack of cardigans.

My grandmother was never an outspoken woman; she was South Carolina sweet-aggressive to her core. Dabbing napkins at her lips even when the strokes had ravaged her mind of so many of the manners she prized. “Whatever you’d like, sugar,” her automatic reply to anything asking her opinion.

At Granny’s funeral, my mother stood in the pulpit, unable to wear her robes because it was a Catholic service and her full ordination at a United Methodist Elder seemed irrelevant to her childhood priest. She was not allowed the Eulogy, either; she had fought to say even a few words to celebrate the life of her now-dead mother.

But half an hour before the funeral, she’d asked me to retrieve something she’d left at her own church down the road. Breathless from my sprint in heels, i’d managed to make it there and back in time for the opening hymn.

My mother stepped up to the microphone after the sermon. She began by describing how docile her own mother had been in life. “But,” she smiled, preacher-smile. Eyes sucking you in and fire catching. “She raised her daughter to be something of a rebel.” Turning her head back to the priest, all South-Carolina-Sass, she donned the white stole i’d fetched for her.

“So if you’ll allow me, I’m going to speak to y’all today as that little bit of a rebel.”

I still have that black dress. It’s a few inches higher above my ankles than when i was fourteen, but i could never bear to part with it. Granny and i may have mostly listened to the Classical Station while eating Lowes fried chicken when the strokes started, but she was still my grandmother.

Which is why, this past International Womyn’s Day, i donned the dress once more.

One of my favorite new nonprofits, Women’s Voices Worldwide, sponsored its second-annual Celebration of Speech. (I’m only a tad biased in my feminist fervor for them, having worked as an intern two falls ago). The event is a day-long rotation of womyn speaking: recreating historic speeches, featuring freedom-fighting womyn in the area’s speeches, and highlighting winners of a contemporary speech competition sponsored by WVW.

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My hair was curled in as 19th-century fashion as i could muster, black dress and pearls the closest i could get to resembling Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

I read a selection from her “Declaration of Sentiments,” which she delivered at the start of the suffragette movement when she was only 32. I was familiar with her speech, opening with lines taken verbatim from the Declaration of Independence, with the key insertion of “men and women created equal.” But what resonated with me the most reading it aloud were some her more poignant reasons of patriarchy’s repeated injuries against womyn:

“He allows her in church, as well as state, but a subordinate position, claiming apostolic authority for her exclusion from the ministry, and, with some exceptions, from any public participation in the affairs of the church.

“He has usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it as his right to assign for her a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and to her God.

“He has endeavored, in every way that he could, to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.”

Even as early as 1848, feminists weren’t “just” tackling voting rights. There is a fundamental challenge in Stanton’s words both to “Biblical” male authority and to the denigration of womyn’s self-worth because of this perceived cis-male authority. Of course these early waves were imperfect; though born out of the abolitionist movement, they were enormously racist and exclusive of the fierce work done by womyn like Ida B. Wells-Barnett. These are racist ramifications we must still, as people and feminists and Christians, grapple with and work to change.

Reading as Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Reading as Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Yet the work of Elizabeth Cady Stanton did not end in vain: the 19th amendment was passed, divorce laws radically changed, and in many Christian churches apostolic authority no longer denies womyn like my mother the right to lead congregations.

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With J, after the speech!

But one perusal of Sarah Sentilles’ A Church of Her Own or the introduction of Jacquelyn Grant’s White Woman’s Christ, Black Woman’s Jesus makes it clear that ordaining womyn does not universally eliminate sexism in the church.

And as i read Stanton’s fiery words, surrounded by so many womyn re-creating and creating words of their own justice-seeking bent, i was not wearied. Sometimes, when i’m plugging along at my thesis or feeling overwhelmingly frustrated that my mother could not “officially” preach at her own mother’s funeral, i have to wonder: has nothing changed? It’s exhausting, this lenten season i sometimes feel perpetually stuck in.

But mustard seeds sprout mighty branches.

My grandmother’s docility did not breed docile daughters. We turned to rebellion out of love for her and love for all our foremothers. So we keep plugging along, against the microaggressions that we are only worth what we weigh and the macro claims that as womyn, we should not pursue ordination or call on Mother God or think of Mary Magdalene as the ultimate apostle.

We remain, exhausted and exhilarated, in rebellion.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s full speech can be read here.

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First, Destruction: Ash Wednesday

What ensnared me about Picasso’s trajectory of work was not, at first, his manipulation of human bodies into geometric shapes. It was how such contortions, such inhuman contraptions could evoke the most human of responses.

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I remember the first time i saw an image of Guernica, Picasso’s brutal rendering of the bombing of Guernica, Spain, in 1937. It was the first lecture of my AP Art History class, my teacher flicking through some of the most notable works in the canon to illustrate how we were to speak of line and color and shape. I don’t remember how to write about line and shape, but i do remember feeling my face flush and eyes burn at the angle of the screaming woman’s neck, the baffled expression on (of all things) a bull.

“Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.”

That’s my favorite Picasso quote. Perhaps he meant the transformation of art, how he learned to paint like a Renaissance master and then decided to break all the rules. To create, he had to first destroy. Or maybe he meant that the birth of anything new means first an old way of being must die. From decaying matter sprouts come forth, that sort of thing.

I’ve been ruminating on this cycle of destruction and creation today, on Ash Wednesday. Marking the beginning of our Lenten practice is nothing other than words taken from the Christian burial rite: ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Just as spring is starting to whisper comes this macabre reminder that we are mortal beings.

The line itself – dust to dust- comes from Genesis 3, as God is telling Eve and Adam the consequences of eating the forbidden fruit. There are so many feminist ways in which this text can be read – Phyllis Trible’s tackling of gender subordination as a perversion of God’s intended equality being one of my personal favorites. And yet when i hear this text preached i always hear our damnation, our inherent tendency to be sinful.

When what really strikes me is God continuing to speak to humanity, even after humanity has wronged Her.

From destruction remains the promise of creation: new creation.

So this lent, i’m joining fellow Talking Taboo contributor Micha Boyett in her #FoundGrace photo-a-day project. She has plenty of excellent reasons for choosing this phrase, which you can read about on her blog. But for me, this process of finding grace is seeking out the creation in the destruction, the life in what has passed and the potential of what is coming. It’s seeing the beauty that can come from such horrors like the bombing of Guernica, the loss of people we love.

Lent is a time to mourn as much as it is to ready ourselves for the resurrection of Easter. And finding grace seems like the perfect way to honor this dialectic.

Caring for the Needy: On Ailments and Adulthood

(Those with queasy tummies: turn back now. You’ve been warned.)

I have the stomach of a Victorian lady.

Assuredly, the rest of me resembles nothing of that sexually repressed, hoop-skirt bonanza, but when it comes to ailments i’m downright dainty. At least once a week i’m pumping the vending machine for a ginger ale or, better yet, sending J down to the Walgreens for more advil. I don’t get colds. I get pneumonia. For two months.

And i don’t do sick pretty, even though i do it damn often.

Which is why, last Thursday night, i was strapped onto a stretcher and loaded into an ambulance, blue puke bag in hand.

Even for me, this was a first.

The illness had begun innocuously enough. But by the end of hour one of tummy cramps and heaving i was laying belly-up on the floor of the second floor bathroom wishing for a swift death, my mom on speaker pleading with me to call the EMTs.

“Nooooo,” i groaned, a flush in the stall next to me. “I’ll be fiiiiinnneeee.” It was the needles. I knew they’d hook me into an IV and i’d be better within hours (at least, not puking anymore) but … the needles. I’d take my arduous death on yellowing, tiled floors in a public bathroom before needles.

“Hey – uh, are you okay?” a chipping pedicure in blue flipflops asked outside my stall fortress of woe. “You know what, i’ll go get you a glass of water,” she asserted before i could protest.

Two minutes later i fumbled with the latch and a tremendously sweet hall mate prodded a mug my way. “Thanks,” i whispered, taking a sip out of courtesy. I knew it wouldn’t be in me more than five minutes, but i was feeling horribly lonely and disgusting and here was someone unafraid to offer help. The least i could do was take it.

That’s what sucks the most about adulthood, i’ve found: being sick and alone. I never want my mom there more than when i have to go buy medicine myself or i’m trying to arrange my pillows so that i can watch Netflix without neck cramps. Mom was on the phone with me, of course, but all i could do was curl up in a ball in the handicap stall and pretend she was stroking my hair.

Wouldn’t dream of asking anyone else to do that. Seriously, gross.

Kind Hallmate left, assuring me i could knock if i needed anything. Instead i’d dragged myself along the wall of the corridor back to my room, pulling of pajamas covered in sick. I just need a shower, I thought. That’ll make me feel better.

“A shower?! No, honey, you need to call the police and have them take you to the ER.” Mom’s tone was getting thinner. She was on speaker now, because i didn’t have the strength to hold the phone to my ear. “And call a friend. You don’t have to do this alone.”

So i caved and called the emergency line, voice crackling with a swollen trachea pleading for help.

I managed to change clothes and then was limp-running back to the bathroom. Too late. I’d lost all strength in my legs and was sprawled on the floor, heaving and heaving.

The door to the stairs opened, EMT in sight.

“Oh,” she said. “Must be you.”

I nodded, then tried to puke. If i hadn’t been assured i was facing armageddon, i would have peed myself laughing.

Her nose wrinkled, but then she gently took my pulse and asked me how i felt. “Like shit,” i cackle-hacked. More EMTs started coming, including my own angel: Tracy, who was an EMT and lived one hall over. She wasn’t on duty but she’d heard the call, so she walked over. She’s considerate and compassionate like that.

When i called the police i’d also called Austin – amazing, fearless, dependable Austin. She loved me even after sharing a room with me for three years, so i knew she’d see me through tonight. Barreling through the double doors in sunflower yellow, i vaguely saw her pulling her hair down before she was pulling my hair back into a ponytail.

Talk about clothing the naked putrid and pathetic.

“You’re gonna be okay, sweetie,” she propped me up off the floor. That’s Austin: diving into the fray because there is a practical need she can fix.

Everything after that is blurry, but i remember Austin coaxing me to say yes to the hospital, and Tracy riding third in the ambulance with me. Tracy stayed, even when i was hurling and hurling and squeezing her fingers purple over the IV. Austin, who’d been handling the calls to both Jonathan and my mom, was finally let back to see me in the ER, after they’d given me enough meds to kill a horse.

Angels, i tell you.

When i was finally breathing normal we cracked jokes about the helluva toast this would make at the wedding. I thanked them and thanked them and thanked them, but i still cannot thank them enough. Tracy hitched a ride back to school with the ambulance, but only after ensuring i had a spare pair of hospital pants.

Around 4 AM, i told Austin to go home. The nurses tried to send me too, but then i puked in the lobby (charming) and asked to stay. At last, at last, i crashed into a dreams about 19th-century London, curled under three hospital blankets.

I woke up again at 6:30, IV out and alone in my room. I’d been so lucky to have a bed at all, and even luckier to have a room. The room was part storage, the walls stacked six-deep with crutches in plastic packaging.

And there, alone in hospital pants and shirt and having survived hell the night before, i finally started to ugly-cry. I couldn’t stop. As panicked as i’d been the night before, i hadn’t cried. I’d known it was the line of no return, the hysteria that plagued the ladies of the Victorian era from which my tummy was taken.

But man, i was bawling. Couldn’t stop. It wasn’t the pain, or the loneliness, or even the fear that thirty crutches might fall from the wall skewering me at any moment.

It was a release, and it was gratitude. When i’d been moaning and dying (ok, not dying) in the handicap stall, Kind Hallmate stopped in. Tracy came to the second floor just because she was around, not because she was on EMT duty. Austin came because i called.

While i’d been wallowing in self-pity over my lonely state as a twenty-something, people surrounded me. So that morning i just cried and cried, no moisture in me but somehow walloping out sobs, the shock washing off and the gratitude settling in.

By the time my auntie came to get me, i had run out of water. It would be a solid few days of bed rest and cheesy rom-coms, but my friends brought me snacks and my auntie took incredible Saltine-cracker care of me.

I was thankful, am thankful, that adulthood didn’t have to be as forlorn as i thought.

One Foot Out

I’m just in this disgustingly liminal space right now. Like when my boots pinch my ankle and i want to change them more than anything in the world but i’m waist-deep wading in snow. So snow boots are what i have to wear, too bad for blisters.

February always feels choppy to me, like the lack of three extra days makes every week compressed. And somehow, the sun setting at 5 and the snow that never ends is making every day stretch to the last crumb on the plate of a dinner i didn’t want to eat.

God, there are too many metaphors here. I’m taking a Short Story writing class, which i am gaga for, but it’s also seriously making me doubt every word i write. Is that too cliché? I ponder, pummeling into the keys. Poppins, whose now almost nine months old and still kitten-sized, has a new hobby: prying off keyboard keys. My “o” is affixed at a 45 degree angle for life, now. So i’m really pummeling the pondering keys here.

I’m ready for Lent. This Ordinary Time, endless February days in a month that shrank in the wash, is so last season.

I’ve got one foot squarely in Durham now, acceptance letter to grad school gratefully in hand. Really, i’ve got my fingers wrapped so metaphorically tight around it they’re Devil blue. But cupcake M&Cs at Mount Holyoke tell me i should feel sad it’s my last semester. I should have been all mopey when the 100 days to graduation banner went up in the campus center. Instead all i could do was whittle them down to the double-digits. Three weeks on a campus and then J is here. I’m done with the liminal, the liminal of long-distance, the liminal of last semesters, the liminal of bloody February and its bloody habit of cramped days that go on for 28 hours a piece.

Lent, though mopey in its dearth of Allelulias, has purpose. There’s the counting and the fasting and the focus. Advent is all in the waiting, the anticipation. I like Advent for the hopeful expectation, i dive into Lent for purpose in the slog. Especially in New England. Spring is kind of a rare commodity here – every April i’ve been through in MA has gone from gritty, grey snow to mud and sun-bathing in the span of about a week.

But for now, i’ll just keep griping about the blisters on both feet. And trying to remind myself i’m lucky to have shoes and really, i should just eat my damn cupcake and get over myself.

Snow Daze.

We would pile in the living room, my mom tucked in a blanket her mother had probably crocheted. Dad would make cocoa on the gas stove using his camping gear for effect. Even when we lost power it was still warm – gas stove and fireplace keeping us cozy. All the kids on the cul-de-sac, our one pair of wool socks each drying on the tiles around the mantle, would pile in for Dad’s cocoa and mom’s blankets. The first ice storm kept us home for a week after we moved to North Carolina.

Talk about a shock for kids fresh from Southern California.

I always felt sad at the end of a snow day. Sure, it was part grief of the impending return to school and the end of those days more magical than Saturdays because they were gifts given at 7:30 in the morning. But it was more than that.

It was how the neighbors, people whose names i hadn’t learned in four years of a shared zip code, all clustered at the top of the hill to watch us sled. It was the ache in my cheeks from the cold. Snow days weren’t just days away from school, it was like the whole world stopped to be together and outside while blanketed in quiet white.

I’m not exactly a fan of snow now. I drive my New England friends up the wall with my whining, my endless sweeping of the sand out of my room and wishing it was spring already. But i’ve not forgotten how delicious those days were, with my purple snow pants and the sleds my Dad kept stocked in the garage, just in case.

Yesterday, Jonathan and i were driving back from the Harris Teeter. An inch had spread on the asphalt in the half hour we’d been packing the cart with Merlot and cookie dough. Barely two miles home and it took us almost 45 minutes, pushing the CRV ahead of us until she had enough traction to crest the hill. People were abandoning their cars to push other people along, i caught an old man as he tumbled down the hill in boat shoes.

Certainly not the spinning hillside with glee i’d had when six and new to Carolina. But a snow day nonetheless. Neighbors clustering and capping it all off piled chin-deep in blankets, in our fire-place-free living room.

And somehow, the magic of a day off when it’s not Saturday doesn’t dissipate, even at 21.

Smoky-Eyed Wonder: Rethinking Advent, Days 16 – 25.

The last stretch of highway we took wound its way through backwoods Virginia.

Day 16: Strong.

Day 16: Strong.

I’m always getting lost in rural Virginia. There was the time in 2011 when we detoured to Williamsburg and i got stuck on a one-laner behind a purple elephant playground strapped to a pick-up truck. That venture was followed promptly by the GPS dropping us off at a military base and me burping out profanities at the – kid you not – black cat scampering in front of the bumper.

This time is was because my directions had misprinted; we’d missed a crucial turn and had to improvise. So there we were, rounding mountain roads where Christmas-lit homes were few and gas stations even fewer.

It was late, really late, when two piping kittens finally saw us through our glass-paneled door. I wanted nothing more than to collapse into clean sheets and deep dreams.

So i did, for a night.

Day 17: Free. Throwback to my Scottish Highlands adventure with my father.

Day 17: Free. Throwback to my Scottish Highlands adventure with my father.

Day 18: Mercy.

Day 18: Mercy.

It’s been a whirlwind since, seven Christmas celebrations between then and now. Truly, they have been all that is merry and bright and deliciously tacky when it comes to snowcapped wishes. No snow, which is always my wish, and plenty of buttery goods and belly laughs.

Day 19: Patience.

Day 19: Patience.

Yet as we were wheedling our way through the navy dark, Jonathan remarked that it just didn’t feel like Christmas yet. Sure, the Bublé CD was on repeat, and sure we’d been filling up shopping carts with snowpeople goodies since before Thanksgiving.

His little sister later would say without Santa Claus, the magic was basically gone. Christmas wasn’t as fun, she said.

I was inclined to agree. I’d uncovered the red suit myth early in second grade; “It just seems so overdone,” i’d sighed to my mother. Her eyes were up to her eyebrows. We were in CVS. “Like, there are too many Santa Claus things for sale for him to be real.” Gesture to the Christmas aisle that had been on display since Halloween.  It didn’t take two minutes after my mother’s confirmation of my suspicion that i informed my younger brother. He had not whiffed too much consumerism to ruin his fantasies.

Day 20: Good News.

Day 20: Good News.

love Christmas, but the commercialization is fundamentally empty. The Hallmark-a-fied pressure to have a stupendously sumptuous supper – or at least a plastic family to laugh over a tanked turkey – is enormously impossible to live up to. And these standards used to make me feel so sad when a family fight erupted or when the boys and i had to shuffle between houses on Christmas morning. This wasn’t what it was supposed to be like, i thought. We’re supposed to all have tacky Christmas jumpers on and crack up at family stories shared over eggnog and mashed potatoes, we’re meant to unwrap the utterly unexpected but totally perfect present.

For the first time, my mother’s church sponsored a Christmas Eve service outside. It was her idea, to gather around fire pits and dole out hand-warmers to the sounds of lessons and carols. Like the first Christmas, she’d said.

Day 21: Prophet.

Day 21: Prophet.

Day 22: Sign. For the UMC Bishop of CA inviting Frank Schaefer to practice ministry in her conference after he was defrocked in his own for officiating the same-gender marriage of his son.

Day 22: Sign. For the UMC Bishop of CA inviting Frank Schaefer to practice ministry in her conference after he was defrocked in his own for officiating the same-gender marriage of his son.

My toes were numb by Isaiah, and when the peace went round i mostly waved to people from my newfound spot by the fire. Smoke watered my eyes.

Day 23: Neighbor.

Day 23: Neighbor.

And yet, as cold and imperfect as it was, it was Christmas. Not in the heartwarming, what-a-spectacular-night sort of way. The bite of the cold was real, the smoke unpleasant, but the candles in the dark and the camaraderie all who gathered experienced in staving off the wind was just as real.

Day 24: joy.

Day 24: joy.

I think it’s easy, when reading the Christmas story, to only see the wise people bringing gifts or the miraculousness of the humility of Jesus as a baby. We don’t read about Mary’s labor pains, her lack of pain killers or discomfort at giving birth over hay and goat manure. My mother preached about fear, the fear of the shepherds as parallel to the fear of Herod until each made their own choices. Yet Nativity sets focus on demure porcelain faces, not raggedy or wild-eyed wonder.

I wonder if it’s this fear, this acceptance of the wildness and imperfection of Christmas, that makes it easier for us to want the Hallmark version. To hope for a happy holiday instead of a frostbitten service singing about a silent night, waiting for a sign we won’t fully understand.

Day 25: Light.

Day 25: Light.

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Here & Not Yet: Rethinking Advent Days 11 – 15

It’s a proper New England winter outside, snow accumulating along brined pathways, the draft from my window at war with my clanking heater. Jonathan’s out for a walk, the novelty of pink cheeks and frozen noses still in tact. He arrived in New England just in time to experience  it at its worst best.

Day 11: Steadfast. Taken in July, when we first adopted our kittens!

Day 11: Steadfast. Taken in July, when we first adopted our kittens!

I’m not a fan of the end of the semester. Yes, it’s the bulging purple bags under my eyes and the sort of haze everyone is over finals, three papers suddenly seeming more insurmountable than they were three weeks ago. I love Christmas, i love being home – whether home is here or North Carolina – but i just don’t love goodbyes. And yet the end of the semester means i get to leave one family for another, reconnecting with people i said farewell to in September.

Day 12: Hope, given by the MHC North Carolina Alums who send us Carolinians care packages every exam season!

Day 12: Hope, given by the MHC North Carolina Alums who send us Carolinians care packages every exam season!

Advent makes the most sense to me, now. Not when i’m home with cocoa wrapped in Ghanain quilts and binging on Scandal, not when the carols are on while i’m tucking tape into the corner of the last present to be wrapped. No, Advent makes the most sense to me in this horrible tension, this waiting – the here of Mount Holyoke, the not-yet of Durham, the half-packed bags and room in disarray.

Day 13: Justice. Tibetan prayer flags, a gift from my brother Thom.

Day 13: Justice. Tibetan prayer flags, a gift from my brother Thom.

When i come back to Mount Holyoke in the fall, it will be the last semester i do this. The last time my home is stretched across state lines, the last time i feel uprooted twice over. For that, i will be grateful. I’ll have had four years of Advent, four years of here-and-not-yet.

Day 14: Gather. Not sure if Jonathan is doing the Great Thanksgiving or basking in the falling snow.

Day 14: Gather. Not sure if Jonathan is doing the Great Thanksgiving or basking in the falling snow.

But for now, i’m trying to stay focused and lost in the process all at once. Trying not to want too much stability because in six weeks i’ll be doing this whole thing again in reverse order.

Day 15: Rejoice. On I-84, due West.

Day 15: Rejoice. On I-84, due West.

I’m finishing this blog, 24 hours later, from a very-welcome hotel bed over a very-finished plate of Indian take-out. J and i have made it the first 500 miles southbound towards NC. I’m feeling less and less torn now, more focused on the miles and right turns and ensuring we have enough nutella to last through tomorrow. The tension between here-and-not-yet doesn’t feel quite so bad when on the road.

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best thing: christmas music.

first advent photos