‘Tis Christmastime

The winter solstice happened this week. The shortest day of the year is now behind us.

We spent several hours on the road Monday, transitioning from the damp and balmy west coast into the brisk and snowy east Kootenays. There is no doubt we’ll be having a white Christmas.

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As the sun slowly appeared over the mountain beside our daughter’s home, we marvelled once again at the exceptional beauty of God’s creation.

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Outside the family room window there is a patio bordered by trees, and every day dozens of birds arrive, flitting from the branches to feast on what they obviously consider a gourmet granola meal that is always provided for them. On our first morning here I counted nine different species in less than an hour!

(Pine Grosbeak)

(Pine Grosbeak)

(Common Redpolls)

(Common Redpolls)

(Red-breasted Nuthatch & Common Redpoll)

(Red-breasted Nuthatch & Common Redpoll)

(Downy Woodpecker)

(Downy Woodpecker)

(Black-capped Chickadee)

(Black-capped Chickadee)

(Mountain Chickadee)

(Mountain Chickadee)

(Steller's Jay)

(Steller’s Jay)

(Pileated Woodpecker)

(Pileated Woodpecker)

(Grey Jay)

(Grey Jay)

God provides for all of his creatures … these birds, and us. It’s Christmastime — in fact, today is “Christmas Eve Day” — and we’re full of praise and thankfulness for Him who was born this night to provide for us and our salvation.

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The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.

[Luke 1:35]

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(I’ll be taking a break from blogging next week. I wish each of you a joy-filled Christmas, and a New Year filled with good health and many blessings.)

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A taste of flash fiction

Writers are always writing something. I have another novel in the works, and my long-suffering critique partners have been reading through each chapter as it rolls out of my brain. First drafts aren’t fun to read, believe me, and mine can be especially brutal when I’ve been short on writing and preparation time.

Christmas is always one of those ‘too much to do, and not enough time in which to do it’ kind of seasons. As the date for our working lunch meeting approached earlier this week, I finally had to acknowledge I wasn’t going to have a chapter ready for my peers to critique. So I took pity on them and did a reading instead. It was pretty silly, short and sweet, and nothing like my usual writing…a bit of flash fiction entitled A RUINED RELATIONSHIP, originally written for k.c. dyer’s blog.

In her countdown to Christmas, author k.c. dyer undertook a writing project — twenty-five days of ‘festive flash fiction’. Each day on her blog she presents a short piece — something light and entertaining that usually contains an abundance of a single alphabet letter and doesn’t exceed 250 words. At her invitation to contribute, I chose the letter “R“.

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rib-roast-festive

A RUINED RELATIONSHIP

Rosslyn bent over, hands on knees, gasping for breath. Running regularly hadn’t rebuilt her stamina as her husband had suggested it would. She wanted to lose weight, to look better for Christmas, so each day she tried to run a few minutes longer, pushing her limits, but she hadn’t yet made it all the way ‘round the block. Half way there and her legs were rubbery…. [If you care to read the rest of my bit of whimsy, I’d be obliged if you’d hop on over to k.c.’s blog, HERE. Many thanks!] 

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How many candles does it take?

He stood on tiptoes, peering at the Advent wreath, counting aloud. Then, “Okay, but if there are four Sundays on the way to Christmas, why are there five candles?”

Advent Candles

His sister had been trying to answer his questions, but with growing impatience she shrugged. “That’s the Jesus candle. Now c’mon … let’s go.” She reached for his shoulder to steer him away, but he ducked from her grasp.

“But Mom told me that one was the Jesus candle,” he said, pointing to the Christ candle which this day sat unused on the communion table pushed to one side of the chancel.

“Yeah, well, that’s the one we use every Sunday to remind people that Jesus is the light of the world. This one, um … this one is his birthday candle.”

“But birthday candles belong on cakes!”

“There’s cake downstairs, remember? If you want a piece we’d better hurry or there won’t be any left.”

“But why is the cake downstairs when the candle is up here?”

“Because Jesus wouldn’t like people to get cake crumbs on the church carpet. For pete’s sake, don’t you know anything?”

As she pushed him ahead of her down the aisle toward the doorway, I smiled at the memory of another little boy in a former church, and the endless questions that had kept a young minister fumbling for answers during a children’s story. There’s nothing more delightful and at the same time more frustrating than a child’s insatiable curiosity.

There’s also nothing more important than satisfying that curiosity, of offering truthful explanations geared to an appropriate level of understanding. In this situation I thought his sister did a remarkably good job. Don’t you? :)

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Was it “just” another Sunday School pageant?

CamelThere was a realistic-looking camel in our church narthex yesterday; also a wooden donkey in the sanctuary and woolly sheep on the chancel. Later, a baby appeared, nestled in a manger.

Sheep-2A young shepherd rolled on the floor clutching his sheep, while a diminutive angel, minus her halo and with a bent wing and bare feet, watched the proceedings and waited for her cue.

Sunday began the third week of Advent with its theme of JOY — and there was a lot of joy in that service!

Shepherd-on-floor

 

Angel

Every year the church school children rehearse with the adults and come together for an intergenerational pageant depicting some aspect of the Christmas story. This year it was all about comparing the story as it appears in the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Storyboard

Performance

What is it about these presentations that makes them much anticipated annual events? They aren’t slick, professional performances, but they always draw ‘a full house’. I think much of their value is in the preparation — the listening and learning, the unravelling of a holy story that is a mystery to children. Is it really so hard to understand that Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem and had a baby in the stable because there was no vacancy in the local inns?  No, but try to explain to children the love that is so integral to the story.

Each year the church confronts them (and us) with the story of God’s incredible love as seen from different perspectives, and then leaves the result in God’s hands. The hope is that within their lifetime, the seed now sown will be nurtured into a meaningful and life-sustaining faith.

So no, yesterday’s giggles and halting recitations weren’t part of “just another Sunday School pageant”, but a joy-filled gathering, an experience of sharing and learning, helping the church convey the wonder of God’s love as expressed in a cradle and a cross.

Baby

 

Tree-Cross

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Difficult Deadlines

As writers we know all about deadlines, don’t we? They are entwined with commitments and are equally unpopular. There’s something about seeing a big circle looming on the calendar that automatically turns off my enthusiasm. At the very time when I need to be productive, I often can’t dredge up the necessary words. As the deadline draws closer I can become panicky. Nothing kills creativity like panic! But we don’t have the luxury of submitting to that panic if an editor is waiting for our work. We must write and we must do it now. So how do we accomplish the seemingly impossible?

William Faulkner once said: “I write only when I am inspired. Fortunately, I am inspired at nine o’clock every morning.” How does a person “get inspired” when the words aren’t coming?

In the book “Take Joy”, Jane Yolen suggests one way. She speaks of “priming the writing pump”. It’s a common analogy in the writing world, but I love her imagery:

“My late father-in-law had a cabin in the West Virginia woods. There was no running water, only a pump that needed to be primed each morning with river water…. Pouring the river water into the mouth of the pump, I would then lower the handle, lift it, lower it again. The gurgle of the unseen machinery alluded to the sympathetic magic taking place: like calling to like.

     “The pump would wheeze, snort, pull, the handle becoming harder and harder to push. And then suddenly water–not the river water laved into the pump, but fresh, earth-chilled, underground, sweet-as-spring water would gush forth.

     “Everyday writing starts that way. The old river water thrown into the pump is metaphorically your letters, revisions, journal entries… and then that sympathetic magic takes hold. As water calls water, so words call words. Up they come from the unplumbed depths, what some call inspiration and some call talent and some call soul: sweet-as-spring new ideas. Sentences. Paragraphs. Stories. Poems. Gushing, flowing, even overflowing. The writer’s day starts.”

For a Christian writer the added ingredient is prayer. Long before I begin trying to prime the pump I have engaged in conversation with the creator of all creativity. Only then do I check the clock and settle in to write. I don’t have many deadlines, but I haven’t missed one yet.

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The Squint Test and Tolerating the Imperfect

Sharing some pre-Christmas thoughts in this reprise from 2009…

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Through the years my husband has wound umpteen dozen strings of lights around our Christmas trees … and unwound them … and rewound them. It’s hard to tell if they’re perfectly spaced even when the strings are lit up, so he does “the squint test”. Peering at the tree while squinting removes all the visual distractions except the small sparkles of illumination. He likes them to be exactly right.

Last year our tree looked lovely – the treasured family heirloom ornaments glistened among our collection of snowflakes, frosted pinecones, and a few red balls for a festive touch. And then the lights went out. Actually, just one string went out – the new, supposed-to-last-for-years LED’s faded away and left the top quarter of the tree dark. Drat!!

So we un-decorated that section, removed the string and replaced it with another, and then redecorated. There. Now it was lovely again … until the next evening when another set of the lights slowly faded away to nothing, this time mid-way down the tree. To replace that string would have required removal of a great number of the decorations as well as the beaded swags, so we did some minor tweaking, rearranged a few nearby lights and then resigned ourselves to ignoring the imperfection, but it’s hard to do. You know how it is. The lights form the backdrop for all the other ornaments. This errant string left a darkened gap right in the middle. But we didn’t have any family coming to visit that Christmas, so no one else saw it.  Later when we were putting everything back into storage we discarded that string so we wouldn’t forget and try to use it again the  next year.

It’s a little like my first novel. I wanted it to be perfect but it was written before I learned what writing was meant to be. Peering critically at it reveals weaknesses. There are gaps that no amount of rearranging is going to fix. I know; I’ve tried. The underlying plot is flawed. The story needs a total rewrite but that would be more work than I think it’s worth. So I’m resigned to its imperfection and have stashed it in the dusty depths of oblivion better known as the closet. No one is ever going to see it.

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What do you do with your less-than-perfect writing efforts? Are you able to discard them or do you keep trying to make them better? How do you decide if they’re worth the effort?

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HOPE in a changing world

This has been the first week of Advent 2015. We begin again to HOPE.

The prophet Isaiah said Jesus would be the hope of the nations, but in our changing world today we sometimes wonder at the reliability of that promise.

The late Christian writer Henri Nouwen emphasized that hope is faith in something beyond our control. While the world around us trembles with insecurity, we crave the kind of assurance that hope can bring. Advent is a time of inner expectation.

I went into this week thinking a lot about the message given last Sunday by the minister of our church, the Rev. Dr. Gerard Booy. Wanting to hear it again, I turned to our church website where there is a page with links to his sermons. It’s a message so very worth sharing. I could provide a direct link for you, but to make it easy I’m embedding the video right here. :)

His message was based on Jeremiah 33:1-26. If you’d like to read that passage first, you’ll find it here, but you can also follow it at the beginning of the video.

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Hope is deeper than optimism. As we make our way through this Advent season let’s move forward with the confident expectation that HOPE will lead us forward into the PEACE, JOY and LOVE that is coming.

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