Sometimes I just need help with an Ugly Cry.

The links have begun to pour in. Stories telling me of the importance of diet and of exercise, stories of how to organize the house and my life. Lots of links about bullet journaling, mostly because I am rather obsessed with this right now.

Links about new starts and plans for the new year. I wrote yesterday about my intention to avoid resolutions this year, my intention instead to focus on embracing more how I am wired and figuring out how to make that blossom.

I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Psalm 139:14.   In all my haphazardness and all my inconsistencies, in all the things that spark wonder within me, and all the things that bring life to me…I am fearfully and wonderfully made by a Creative God who has marked me as His own. He has left His Image upon me.

Part of that, I think, is this deep affinity to story.

And that is why, I think, one of the links which continued to pop up in my FaceBook feed caught my attention.

The Wall Street Journal. The Need to Read.

The Need to Read.





Beyond just a tag on to my days, or something that would be nice to fit in to the schedule, there is a need to read. Will Schwalbe writes in the article above that the need to read is tied to a need to be exposed to ideas beyond just our own. We are able to experience and understand different ideas and people through reading. This is such an enormous reason to read.

It is not the only reason.

Right now, as I near 47 years old and parent kids from five to fifteen, I realize more than ever the need for wonder and story. That image of God marked on my soul? Part of it is is this innate affinity to story, this perking of the ears and the heart to a good story. Being drawn in to the characters and the setting, wondering what will come next and how the characters will resolve their challenges. Rejoicing in their successes and feeling that ache of heartbreak over loss and suffering.

In fictional stories.

Yep.

Crying those messy, snotty, tissue-necessary cries at the end of a story that releases our emotions. *

Sometimes we need that release. Because we have had to hold things together in the midst of a world that is stressful and filled with heartbreak. We cannot walk in mourning or anger or fear or sorrow all the time, even though we have valid reason for all those emotions…we have to learn to keep them in check and function with some sense of health in the midst of a crazy world.

Sometimes we need the catharsis of a good cry, the release of getting really ticked off at a villain worthy of our anger. We need our wonder sparked and ignited by the heroism of a fictional, or historical, character. We need our authors to give us a moment to release our emotions in the safety of a story so we can return to our realities of bills and parenting and teaching and health issues and dementia and cancer and fears and hopes and sports and joys and all that makes up our lives. We return with our hearts enlargened and ready to love well, to wonder well and, yes, even to have anger when needed.

Stories give us room to feel. They give us room to listen and to experience beyond our neighborhood. They are not a luxury, they are a necessity.

So, do not take it as a burden, and surely do not add it as a resolution…but go buy a book and read. Something. Ask a friend for a recommendation and find something worth reading.  If you need a place to start, check out this list over at The Rabbit Room.  Or, better yet…tell us in the comments what you are reading to start this new year! Currently I am reading Scarlet Pimpernel and Pride and Prejudice.

*The last book that left me in that state of an ugly cry (messy, tears falling and snotty nosed), was The Warden and the Wolf King…the last book in the Wingfeather Saga. You haven’t read these? Go…now. Read them to your kids, starting tonight!

Birth of Wonder

This originally was posted in 2013, yet the words hold true today….

 

This year a little elf doll has made an appearance at our house.  This is the first time we have taken part in the whole Elf on the Shelf phenomena, and we only did because two boys asked. They asked with this sense of wonder in their eyes and this delight. And now, each morning they immediately make a search for where this little stuffed toy has settled.

 

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This will  be part of their memory of Christmas. This will be part of their tradition. Along with bundling up and loading in the truck with hot chocolates and popcorn to drive through the city and look at Christmas lights. Listening to Christmas music. Practicing for the Christmas program at church. Decorating the Christmas tree and the house. All of these combine to create an atmosphere that stands out as special; as infused with wonder and something different.

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I remember the Christmases of my childhood. I remember lighting the luminarias and setting the table for Christmas Eve. I remember the anticipation, looking over the presents under the tree a hundred times. I remember the delight in looking at all the ornaments and sitting and staring at the tree with all the other lights in the house off. I remember the special food, the aromas and the scurrying around the kitchen. I remember the little cinnamon rolls that came out only at Thanksgiving and Christmas. The special Christmas china and the red and green goblets. Velvet dresses and Christmas sweaters and shoes that pinched. Acting out the story of the coming of the Babe in the Manger.  Loading up in the car and heading to the Episcopal church downtown for midnight mass and remembering the hush that fell upon that place and the sense of awe. Christmas morning was fun, but all that led up to it is more imprinted on my memory than the gifts and opening presents.

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Everything was set to perfection, and I know there was stress involved, but it was set to perfection with a sense of delight, to lavish and to create a sense of the special.

 

Now…the one who was at the helm of setting the tone and the table  is lost in a place where she does not even understand the meaning of the word Christmas. We have not had a meal like that in years, and Dad has not celebrated Christmas in quite the same way in some time. Of course, Grandparents pare things back, but we have set aside the wonder because she does not understand. Until this past Thanksgiving…my brother and his wife brought Thanksgiving to my folks’ place.

 

Dad set the table and each piece was still able to carry memories. It is amazing how these inanimate objects bear our thoughts and hold our emotions, releasing a flood of memories just by being brought out into view. Now Dad walks through setting the pieces out, and Mom shadows him. She takes some pleasure in seeing the pieces, but she no longer is the one setting the tone. She no longer is the one welcoming the guests with beaming smile. She is no longer orchestrating.

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I realized something. I have many friends for whom the holidays are truly difficult, and I imagine that infusing wonder into those moments can be daunting. Seasons which invoke feelings of dread and fear and depression, or where loneliness is the dominant emotion rather than wonder or joy…these are not seasons marked by memories of anticipation and hope.  Rather, they might be seasons where we want to simply close the door and ignore.

 

I would offer that all the more, though, we need in those moments to affirm the irrationality of Christmas, as Madeleine L’Engle says.

In the midst of the terrors and the depressions and the fears and the angers and the hopelessness….in the midst of those is where we need to hear the wonder.

We can manufacture some sense of wonder with Elves on Shelves and twinkling lights. Enough to capture the attention of the five year old, or even the ten year old. Enough to enliven their imagination so they have memories to look back upon as they age. Enough to spark their wonder. But, they are mere glimpses of wonder, and they do not sustain. Let the children play and enjoy…and spark their wonder.

Then, remind them of the One who tells of the truest wonder of all.

When the true terrors of reality come, we need the irrationality of Christmas. We need the imagination of the God who has the power to overcome, and to birth true wonder.

 

The Birth of Wonder

Madeleine L’Engle

When I am able to pray with the mind in the heart, I am joyfully able to affirm the irrationality of Christmas.

As I grow older

I get surer

Man’s heart is colder,

His life no purer.

As I grow steadily

More austere

I come less readily

To Christmas each year.

I can’t keep taking 

Without a thought 

Forced merrymaking

And presents bought

In crowds and jostling. 

Alas, there’s naught

In empty wassailing

Where oblivion’s sought.

Oh, I’d be waiting

With quiet fasting

Anticipating

A joy more lasting.

And so I rhyme

With no apology

During this time

Of eschatology:

Judgment and warning

Come like thunder. 

But now is the hour 

When I remember

An infant’s power

On a cold December.

Midnight is dawning

And the birth of wonder.

She Littered our World with Glitter and Pink

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This face. This little one who changed our world.

 

She was not expected. In fact, she was a surprise which left us feeling a bit overwhelmed when we first learned she was arriving. Funny how God’s surprises can be exactly what we need…even when at first we don’t know how or why.

 

 

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This little one, five years ago, changed our world of all boys to a world littered with glitter and pink.

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And wonder.

So much wonder. Her imagination staggers me. All the boys have been creative and imaginative…but Miss Madeleine Jane takes it all to a completely different level. I will catch her running through the house, stop sharply, lean over and whisper something to the air, and take off again. Playing some game with some imaginary friend. Giggling and laughing her way through the day.

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This little one is filled with humor and sharp whit. She understands and grasps the world around her in a remarkable way. She is delightful, wonder-filled, fierce and brave.

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The other day a friend asked her if she was brave when she saw King Leo on the trailer for the new Jungle Book Movie. “Yes. I thought I would be brave, and I was  braver than I thought I would be.”

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She loves worms and teacups in the same degree. She can embrace you with spontaneous hugs or scream at the top of her lungs…within seconds of each other.

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We had no idea we needed so much pink, so much wonder and so much love in our midst.

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We celebrated her fifth birthday with a fairy garden.

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We gave her some ingredients, and she is already filling them with life.

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Dragonflies

She is already learning that there is danger around her. She asked the other day if there were bad guys in real life. Sadly, yes there are. She is preparing herself though, listening to fairy tales and truths. Learning about courage and wonder. Filling her heart and her imagination with stories of bravery and of humility and of wonder.

We will keep giving her the tools, and we will keep looking on as she twirls and delights and reminds of so much good. She will continue to shape our world to have more laughter and more love than we could have imagined. What a delight-filled surprise she has become.

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Happy Birthday, Maddie Jane.

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“To cease to wonder is to fall plumb-down from the childlike to the commonplace—the most undivine of all moods intellectual. Our nature can never be at home among things that are not wonderful to us.” – George MacDonald

Five Words I Love To Hear: Mom! Please, Don’t Read Anymore!

 

Each night for the last couple months I have been met by this exclamation from my youngest boy.

 

The lights are dimmed, he is in his bed and the Littlest Princess (I’m still settling on their nicknames for this blog) is in some degree of resting. Prayers are done and we have read one chapter out loud from our latest book.

 

We have been taking our time, savoring George MacDonald’s books. About Princesses. Yes, reading my boy books about princesses.

 

But these are George MacDonald books about princesses.

 

 

The Princess and the Goblin.

The Princess and Curdie.

 

The Lost Princess (or The Wise Woman: A Parable)

 

Books which greet us with comments like these:

“It was foolish indeed – thus to run farther and farther from all who could help her, as if she had been seeking a fit spot for the goblin creature to eat her in at his leisure; but that is the way fear serves us: it always sides with the thing we are afraid of.”

 

“There is this difference between the growth of some human beings and that of others: in the one case it is a continuous dying, in the other a continuous resurrection.”

 

“What honest boy would pride himself on not picking pockets ? A thief who was trying to reform would. To be conceited of doing one’s duty is then a sign of how little one does it, and how little one sees what a contemptible thing it is not to do it. Could any but a low creature be conceited of not being contemptible? Until our duty becomes to us common as breathing, we are poor creatures.”

 

These are books which carry weight, and I have been happy to read slowly. The other night, though, I thought we might read two or three chapters so we could finish the book that night. The Youngest Boy would have none of that.

 

I get carried away reading books. Looking up I will find that I have read for two hours when I only meant to take a few minutes to read. This boy, though…he has restraint.

 

Stop reading.

 

Savor what we have.

 

He wanted me to stop so the book would last longer, so we would have more nights to think about Rosamond or Curdie or all the other cast of characters. He asked last night if there were any more after this…I told him there is this little one called At The Back of the North Wind.

 

There will be plenty of time to be swept away by stories and read for hours….there is something priceless about a 9 year old being aware that we need to savor the moment. He knows there will come a time when we have read all the MacDonald books, and he wants to hold that off as long as possible.

 

There is wonder, and sometimes we just glance and acknowledge what should make us stop in our tracks. The absolute-out-of-control laughter of children. Sunsets which turn the sky to fire and make our hearts beat faster. The smell of honeysuckle.

 

The reality of a God who creates all these things, and who cares for all of us. And for me. And for you.

 

Wonder. On a Monday it may feel far away….but think about the last time you took something in just a piece at a time to make it last. Today, take in just a piece…

 

Peace.

 

Grace.

 

Mercy.

 

Love.

 

Forgiveness.

 
Resurrection.

 

Creativity.

 

Don’t rush. Show the restraint of a 9 year old.

 

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