The Glorious Muddle
glimpses of grace in the messiness of life

December 11, 2018

Into a Dark World, Light

December is a month of waiting. If you’re young, you wait for Santa to come. If you’re a sun-seeker, you wait for the days to grow longer again. If you’re a Christ-follower, you wait for the coming (the advent) of the Christ child.

While you wait, you are anything but passive. You don’t sit, bored, drumming your fingers as the minute hand marches across your clock, willing the pages of your calendar to  turn. You do something. Anything.

Children actively try to be good, to make the “nice” list and keep off the “naughty” one.  They go out of their way to be helpful and resist the temptation to fight with their siblings. December is the best time to be a parent with little ones so eager to obey.

People who prefer sunny days (like me!) turn on lamps or light candles. You dream of vacations to exotic beaches, even if your transportation is only your mind. In December, the ever-present threat of winter storms hangs in the air. I know; we’ve just had a doozy. We waited, expectantly, for the first snowflake of the year. Now we wait, impatiently, for roads to be plowed, snow to melt, and power to be restored.

One of my favorite art terms is chiaroscuro, the contrast between light and dark. At no time in my life have I experienced that contrast more vividly than my first Christmas in Romania. The first one after the revolution. The first one in which Romanians could celebrate freely.

The world was dark in 1990. No lights on the streets. Very little light inside. Not much heat. No decorations. No gifts to buy or money to buy them with.  It was nothing like any Christmas before in my life.

More than I ever expected, I loved living in Romania, but I also couldn’t wait for Christmas break. My team and I were to meet up with other American teams in Switzerland. We hoped to escape the hardships of life for a week, share the unbelievable things we’d witnessed, and be with friends who spoke our same language.

A blizzard fell on the city the day of our flight, grounding every plane. We waited—not hundreds of years as people did for Messiah, but two long days–in a cold, dark airport along with a mob of others desperate to leave.

Finally, Swiss Air swooped down and offered us a chance to enter a new realm. We had no means to pay for this gift. We exchanged all we had to offer (our meager Tarom tickets) for the last four luxurious seats. They ushered us to a mysterious world so beautiful, we could never have imagined it.

When I stepped out of the airport, headed for our housing that night in Zurich, the subdued, tasteful white lights outlining trees and buildings blinded me. The chiaroscuro made me dizzy. I’d been living in darkness for months. I wanted light; I’d waited for light; but I wasn’t prepared for it.

Christ-followers wait by preparing their hearts and their minds in December, reflecting on what the great mystery of the incarnation means. What does it mean to you—personally–that the God of creation stooped to take on human flesh? What kind of love did it take for this God to willingly humble himself to become a baby, utterly dependent on those he formed from dust?

Immanuel. God with us. God who came to invite us to join his life.

He arrived in a world darkened by fear, poverty, political unrest, hopelessness.  A world not unlike our own, today. His light shone in the darkness. As Hanukkah also celebrates, that light will never be extinguished. It continues to shine, against all odds, even when the oil should run out.  His light shines today.

The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.

~ Isaiah 9:2

2 Comments

October 30, 2018

I Could Have Done More

I’m sorry but I do not know who to give credit for this beautiful photo.

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, of The Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, spoke words that pierced me. He said:

“I could only save some. The people in the back of the sanctuary, I could not save. I carry that regret with me and I will the rest of my life, that I could have done more, and that I was not able to do that. That’s my burden to carry.”

During an even darker time in the world’s history and in the history of the Jews, Oskar Schindler said similar words. “I could have done more. I could have saved one more.

Their words made me think: What more could I have done? Maybe they pierce you, too. What more could you have done?

Back in 1790, George Washington wrote the following in a letter to the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island. “May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

The children of Abraham, and every peace-loving person in America, should be able to safely take shelter under their own tree, in their own home or school or workplace. Certainly, they should be safe in their house of worship.

Many years ago, I learned a strategy for coping with anger. Before I say words that can never be unsaid, I need to take some time out, take a walk around the block or count to twenty, anything to give my emotions a chance to cool down.

Our nation needs to take a time out.

I will never write anything one way or the other that expresses my political opinions because I don’t want to add to the noise or alienate people who may see things differently. But I do read and I listen to others’ words.

Our country is like a tinderbox ready to explode. I have friends and family I dearly love who are polarized on both ends of the spectrum. Many of these friends spew their opinions in such hateful language that if I said I voted for the other side, they probably would no longer consider me their friend.

Some may read this and think they agree with me. “Yes, it’s all because of the Republicans.” Others will say, “So true; it’s the Democrats’ fault.” But if they think either of those things, they’re not hearing me. I will say it again. Both sides have contributed to the tinderbox.

As Americans, we need to take a walk around the block. We need to remember what we have in common, why we love our country, what we love about each other.

In the film Schindler’s List, Itzhak Stern quotes from the Talmud. “Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.”

We can do more. We can save one life. We can stop the hatred.

2 Comments

October 24, 2018

Use Your Imagination

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

In 1929, Albert Einstein was asked by a Saturday Evening Post interviewer if he trusted more in imagination or knowledge. Einstein said, “I am enough of the artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.

Children seem to be born with vivid imaginations and insatiable curiosity, but when they grow to adulthood, they often have to be reminded to “Use your imagination.” Why is that? Over time, we can let our imagination, a beautiful gift of creativity from our Creator-God, get squelched or die of atrophy.

Kris Kringle, in Miracle on 34th Street, asked the child, Susan, if she knew what imagination is. She said, “That’s when you see things that aren’t really there.”

“Well, not exactly. No, to me the imagination is a place all by itself. A very wonderful country. You’ve heard of the British Nation and the French Nation. Well, this is the Imagi Nation. Once you get there you can do almost anything you want.”

My parents encouraged and even celebrated my “over-active” imagination. We moved to the country where there were no girls to play with when I was four years old. No problem. I invented my own friends.

Debbie Whooby and Donna Hook were my constant companions. When we’d go for a ride in the car, my older brother had to scrunch against the door to make room for my two invisible friends. Debbie and Donna helped me make the transition to country life and kindergarten.

Debbie and Donna barrettes from my father

Now, as a so-called grown-up, I get to return to my childhood. I have the best job in the world! OK, I don’t get paid for my job–so it might be a stretch call it a “job”–but I do love what I do.

I have discovered how much I enjoy writing fiction. I have the power to create people and towns and whole worlds. A character may be tall with red hair and a contagious laugh one day, and then after I take out my giant eraser, I can turn her into a short brunette bookworm or a medium-height blonde political activist.

I get to create imaginary friends again!

My invisible characters write my stories. They visit me as I go about my day, looking over my shoulder and saying things like, “I would never say that.” They come to me in my sleep and keep me awake with all their racket. When I sit down to type, their stories unfold and take twists that I, as the Author, never saw coming.

I’m about to start the last novel in my young adult series of three, from a specific time and place in history–Romania in the 1980s. Historical fiction is a return to my roots.

My very first novel (finished at age 10), called Revolutionary Anne, was about a girl who lived in Phillie while her father served at Valley Forge. I wrote this masterpiece on the banks of the Choptank River across from my childhood home, the place where my mind was free to soar to any setting in any time period.

Imagination encircles the world. It enables you to do almost anything you want.

 

2 Comments

September 26, 2018

Calling Yourself a Writer

I took my first tentative steps on shaky legs one year ago. That’s when I quit my less-than-fulfilling full-time job (no, I did not retire) and started cobbling together part-time writing gigs. My job title on social media had to change. So, what should I call myself?

Adjunct college instructor? I taught one class (my first one ever), loved it, and learned more than my students. But since my pay was comparable to a kid’s delivering newspapers, I decided to part company with that position.

Should I label myself as Writing tutor? Editor? Speaker? These titles only show glimpses of what I do.

Nothing else fit, so I took the plunge. I decided it was time to identify as Writer.

Why is that so hard to do? A decade ago, I published a memoir and since then, I’ve had many short stories, essays, and articles in print. I’ve written two novels in a series of three. When I received my Master of Art in Writing degree, shouldn’t that qualify me to bear the title?

I write. I should be called a writer. Right?

Writers carry enough angst as it is. We tend to be an introspective lot. Calling yourself a writer connotes that you think you’re a good writer—which is subjective and seems to depend solely on the number of likes and comments (engagements) you can drum up on social media.

If it’s your occupation, does that mean you actually get paid to do it? When I think of the hours it takes to write and revise and revise a novel, the months and years it takes to find an agent and go through the publishing process, I doubt I’ll live long enough to see the non-red ink side of the ledger.

Writing is a passion. It comes from a deep place in our soul. Writers write because we must. For me, it’s a calling. I believe God put the desire to write in me. The ideas that come to my when I dream or when I walk, could that be his voice whispering to me?

Writing is hard work. I spend hours upstairs in my little garret office, transforming letters into words and pouring them out as sentences on my laptop every day (well, almost). My garret is the cheapskate’s version of being holed up in a mountain cabin. Even though it’s actually a corner of my guest room, I get so caught up in what I do that I forget where I am and I lose track of time. What? Didn’t you eat dinner last night? Even my sleep is disrupted by characters I invented. That’s not how I would say it.

A writer has to set up structure where there is none. Drudge up momentum on your own, without a team spurring you on. Be productive when there’s nothing to show for it. Get things done when you have no time to do them.

My first year nearly down, I doubted my Writer status. I wondered if I should have kept my (was it really so boring?) administrative job. The teaching gig took all my time and energy in the fall. Being the medical shuttle driver and caregiver for three people drained me in the spring. Spanning all four seasons, I served on the Grand Jury, which provided a wealth of fodder for future stories, if only the judge hadn’t said something about having to kill me if I repeated any of it.

And then came July, and Camp NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). The sick people in my life were finally healthy enough for me to proclaim July as My Month: Don’t Bother Me Unless You’re Dying. The accountability of the camp kicked me in the butt and kick-started my stalled momentum on the second novel.

Thanks to NaNoWriMo, I wrapped up my first year calling myself a Writer on a positive note. I finished my second novel and an agent is considering the first one. That’s not too shabby.

No Comments

August 30, 2018

Learning Gratitude from Other Cultures

Today, my article about learning gratitude is featured in The Redbud Post‘s issue on learning from other cultures. You can read the article here. I recount one of my memories from my time in Romania that is dearest to my heart.

Taryn R. Hutchison, Writer writes, “I’ve learned that all people are the same. Everyone wants to be loved, to do something significant and to protect and provide for their children. Everyone is created in God’s image and carries a God-shaped vacuum in their heart.”

Two sweet things have come out of this for me. First of all, I’ve posted about my decision to force my book, We Wait You, into retirement and send it to the Nursing Home for Old Books. Since then, I’ve been grieving the loss of it in print form.

Immediately after I made the decision and scheduled the date to cut off its oxygen, this article was selected. It includes an excerpt from We Wait You, so I felt like my book was given one more chance at life.

Another funny connection is I’d repressed the name of the girl in this excerpt, since we referred to her as She Cry Now, the phrase she loved to speak. Her real name is Adriana. Adriana is also the name of the title character in the trilogy I’m writing. (I knew I loved this name!)

Adriana, the elderly woman we called The Kissing Lady, and my book have all been granted one more chance to speak. That’s something I’m grateful for.

Words can live on and they can outlive us.

 

No Comments