Saturday, December 20, 2014

Flower Girls and Weddings from a Dad's Perspective

This blog post comes from Aaron, my guest poster for the night and husband extraordinare:

Weddings have never been much on my radar. If I'm honest, I remember them by the food. I think there are great reasons why food and celebrations go together but that's for a different day. And sure, you can call me shallow but you know I'm right.

Since our K-Life days when we were also going through the season of friends getting married, we have had our fair share of weddings. However, this time around I see them in a different light. A light from being a dad.

And not the angle of giving Anna away in marriage. I'll deal with that never at a later date. Today I was fascinated by the flower girl. Anna was recently asked to be the flower girl for a couple we know whose wedding is this coming summer. When asked, Lara and I both looked at each other and said back to them, "That's great but you might want to reconsider when you get closer." She'd not even be two by that time. Lara and I laughed after playing out the potential scenarios. We're convinced that if she can make it past the middle row of seats, she'd do great. If not, we may be bringing in people with hazmat suits to clean up the damage. Today we went to a wedding of a friend of ours. The flower girl did great. Usually, we scrutinize an older flower girl on her performance. However, the younger they are, we just ask that they are cute and make it to the end. She made her way down the aisle, basking in her dress, dropping pedals she doesn't know she is or isn't grabbing from her basket, and aimlessly dropping them (or air) in bunches on the aisle. She then cutely but clumsily climbs the stairs to the maid of honor. She stumbles before reaching her but gets there, turns, and smiles. During the wedding, she can be seen eating some snacks in what looks like a jewel pack and waving at her proud but still nervous mother.

But for some reason, my mind wonders to, "Why do we even have a flower girl and a ring bearer?" I'm sure there are some royalty things going on and history behind it all but I couldn't help but think about Christ and His bride.

For most weddings, they begin with a music, singing the ancient story of anticipation of love and hope. You hear it and know you are here to witness an event full of joy. Then, a new theme begins, telling us of family coming down to huddle as close as they can to the stage, each family usually sitting on separate sides but on the same row, uniting as one to send out from themselves new life. The groom stands center stage. The groomsman and bridesmaids enter and make ready the way. They surround the scene, each with their physical presence testifying to two people and a history and stories of these two lives, each validating what will happen in the moments following.

But right before the grand entrance, it is two children, one with a pillow and another with a basket full of flower pedals, who walk down the aisle. These two children will usher in the moment that makes us want to stand up before the music begins to catch the first glimpse of a glowing bride. It is these two children who don't understand the gravity of the following moments that are the first notes to a symphony about to be written. These two children, full of innocence, naivety, peace, and joy, bring in the bride. It is these two children who are ushering in a new kingdom.

I cannot help but think that this is how God is ushering in His kingdom. Through His children. Not by sword or might. But by children of innocence who don't quite get the gravity of the moment that will culminate in the comprehensive outpouring of God's redemptive love to a world broken and hurting. Children given their innocence. Children announcing the arrival of a bride made clean by the blood of the perfect Lamb. Children Jesus said never to hinder, even though they can be clumsy and naive. Children called by a loving Father.

May we usher in His kingdom through His love. Maranatha, Lord Jesus.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

With Cup in Hand

The sky is gray, and the branches, unclad for winter, run through it like brown cracks.

I stand at the sink and do last night's dishes.  There aren't many.  Our big soup pot, a brownie pan, seven brown mugs.  We had our small group Christmas party last night.  You can't have a Christmas party without wassail - one of the things my mama taught me about hostessing.  It's easy; you heat apple cider and cranberry juice on the stove, add cloves and cinnamon sticks, cut up an orange or a lemon, add sugar to taste.  It makes one's house smell like Christmas, and the inaugural swallow warms all the way down.

I dip my hands in the hot water and look at the sky.  Anna toddles from an open cabinet to the island, singing her own little song full of her own little words.  I swipe the dishrag around the rim of a mug, rinse, repeat.  The mugs were a gift from my uncle and aunt.  They're simple and beautiful, my favorite kind of thing.  I think of the hands that cupped round them last night as we watched It's a Wonderful Life and lingered after, laughing over stories of our awkward younger selves.

Just a cup.  Just a drink.  Just a roomful of people piled on a couch and stretched out on a scratchy jute rug.  But it's more, for Psalm 68:6 says God sets the lonely in families.  Doesn't He?  Can't it even be said that's the reason Jesus came, to bring us into His bloodline, to call us His brothers?  And on a cold December day when we wonder why He lingers, it is this answer too.  He waits in patient kindness, so that the family might swell even more.

The dishes are clean, stacked precariously in our tiny dishpan.  I unplug the sink and give one more glance at the sky.  It is unchanged in its somber shade, but inside these brick walls, we'll set a pot to simmer on the stove, and we'll keep filling the brown mugs up through all the heavy gray days.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

When It's Hard to See God as He Is

Being a parent does incredible things for your understanding of God.

Doctrinally, I would say that God is a loving Father, Jesus an ever-present Shepherd, and the Holy Spirit a Comforter and Guide, but those truths aren't always the ones I play on the projector of my white-sheet mind.  Sometimes, the projector rolls, and God flashes across as stern and disappointed, Jesus shows up as distant and disapproving, and the Holy Spirit wafts in as mystical and hazy.

Tonight, Anna was up past her bedtime.  We'd gone to look at Christmas lights, and when we returned, it was already seven, and we still had to feed her dinner and change into jammies.  She was tired and fragile.  She asked for her water, but I had to get it ready.  She ran away from me, ranting in her baby talk, straight across the dining room and into the bathroom, where she could go no further.  I scooped her up, ready to speak comfort and love to her, and she threw her head back as hard as she could, hitting herself against the cabinet.

How often am I Anna?  So frustrated at God for the things I cannot see.  I ask for water, and it doesn't come instantly.  I can't see what His hands are doing, and so I run.  I throw angry words into the air and go as far as I can, and all the time, He is following.  His heart toward me is tender.  He longs for me to understand Him, and He's ready to teach me who He is.  He's not withholding the water because I have failed or because He is mean.

Whatever it is that you are waiting for, my friend, take heart.  God tucks into His side with the loving grasp of a Father, and He is not holding out on you.  Rather, He is the only one of the two of you that completely understands the situation at hand and perfectly knows how to bring His goodness and mercy to pass.

He is our good Father.  Listen to Audrey remind you - it will bless you, I promise.

I put all my hope in the truth of Your promise
And I steady my heart on the ground of Your goodness
When I'm bowed down with sorrow I will lift up Your name
And the foxes in the vineyard will not steal my joy

Because You are good to me, good to me

I lift up my eyes to the hills where my help is found
Your voice fills the night - raise my head up to hear the sound
Though fires burn all around me I will praise You, my God
And the foxes in the vineyard will not steal my joy

Because You are good to me, good to me

Your goodness and mercy shall follow me
All my life
I will trust in Your promise

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

May All Your Christmases Be White

We made a little list of things to do over the Christmas season.

No big goals here, people.  Just a few things that would probably have happened anyway, but don't they look so cute on a chalkboard?

(I'll be honest, reading A Christmas Carol  is a long shot.  But the list needed at least one stretch.)

On Sunday night, my mom made chili and we settled down in their basement to watch White Christmas.  There are certain things about my childhood that remain very mysterious to Aaron, and I'd say the incredible significance of White Christmas is at the top of that list.

My sister and I loved to dress up as little girls.  My mom collected old dresses, shawls, high heel shoes - the stuff of dreams.  Our entire collection of dress up filled two garage bags.  When friends came over, we emptied the bags all over the bedroom floor and worked our way through multiple clothing changes as we acted out weddings, balls, plays, and oh yes, the pivotal scenes from White Christmas.  (We also drew a lot of inspiration from The Lawrence Welk Show.  Childhood quirks!)

Me and my sister with our friends Pam and Jennifer, circa 1992.  That yellow dress was my fave.

Everybody always wanted to be Judy.  My friend Pam got to be Judy more often than not because she was the only one who could wrap the rainbow stretch belt around her waist twice.  When it was just my sister and I, we sashayed around the living room singing, "There were never such devoted sisters."  To this day, I still wish I could have figured out how to tap my foot as fast as Judy.

In a few years, Anna will be old enough to meet the magic.  We'll watch it together, and the songs and the dances and the LOVE STORY will enchant her too.  

I can't wait.  I've missed dressing up.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Anatomy of a Christmas Card

Thanksgiving rolls around, and it's time to start considering the question: WHAT ARE WE GOING TO WEAR FOR OUR CHRISTMAS CARD PHOTO?  This is the obvious consideration of every wife, and it's also the thought that has crossed no husband's mind, ever.

This year, I was giving Aaron the rundown on our outfits, which went something like this.  "So I was thinking I'll wear that new plaid shirt with a cardigan over it, of course, and you can wear your chambray shirt but I also think you wore that shirt last year in our Christmas card picture, so maybe you can wear that navy sweater we got in Chicago over the shirt, and Anna is going to wear her striped dress with the chambray bottom."  Breath.  "Do you think that sounds good?"

Aaron looked at me with a pained expression on his face.  "Babe, I have no idea what chambray is."

Record screech.

This is one of those moments where I realize where I've been living in an alternate universe in which my husband's brain thinks about the exact same things as mine.  But no, in the real universe, he's not wondering whether Mary is going to find another husband in season five of Downton Abbey.  Neither he is storing away the finer points of fashion trends, such as the identification of chambray.

This makes division of labor easy - I lay out all the outfits so no one has to wonder what chambray (or plaid?) is, and Aaron is a rockstar and gets himself and Anna ready while I spend thirty minutes curling my hair.

Then there are the pictures themselves.  Find a photographer: Mom, check.  Find a location: Mom's back yard, check.  Set up a time: "Hey Mom, we're coming over after church, and could you take a few photos for us?" Check.

A more accurate question would have been, "Hey Mom, we're coming over after church, and we'll need you to take at least a hundred photos for us in order to get one where Anna is smiling and I'm happy with my hair, and oh, we'll need you to make some funny snorty noises and possibly pull some dance moves in order to make Anna smile and look at the camera, does that sound okay?"

But hey!  We got the smile!  We got smiles, plural!

Today I'm addressing the cards in between redressing Anna.

So far, she has wanted me to put on her coat, her hat, and swap out one of her boots for a brown flat. But, I'm not complaining.  She smiled for the Christmas card picture, and when you're 15 months old, that's no small thing.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Quilting Year

One of my secret ambitions is to join a quilting club.

Now I have told the entire Internet, so please, if you're part of a quilting club, feel free to invite me.

(Sidebar: Is there a certain age requirement to join a quilting club?  Oh, I know there's no rule, but I need to know the unspoken social mores.)

As a little girl, I would beg my mom to let me sew on her machine.  It was set up in a little nook in her bedroom, and I spent hours (or what felt like hours to my 9 year old mind) squirreled away there, sewing little scraps together.  Mom didn't hover over me worried that I might sew through my finger or bust a part on her machine.   Alone in her room, I created.  Beautiful, scrappy little messes.

There's a magic in making pretty things out of small beginning bits.  It's the magic of creating.   "Creativity," Madeleine L'Engle says, "is a way of living life, no matter our vocation or how we earn our living."  I like that, the thought of creativity being a rhythm of life, and it's true for me, at least - when I'm not creating in some way, I feel a bit withered up.   It's taken form over the years in decorating our house with garage sale finds or pasting together cards out of magazine pages.  This year, I quilted.

In February, my sister asked me to help her bind a t-shirt quilt she had just finished.  It inspired me.  I wanted to make a quilt and finish it through to the bitter end: piecing, quilting the layers, and binding. I would make Anna a baby quilt!  So I went to JoAnn's and wandered the aisles.  Spent way too long pulling bolts off, holding up pattern next to pattern.  I chose a simple design that didn't have a lot of corners to match up, and my Brother EX 660 and I got cozy at the dining room table.  You can actually see me working on that quilt in the last picture in this post.  

After that, I was hooked.  A friend was due to have a baby in the summer, and so I decided to make her a baby quilt.  Then another friend was due in October, and obviously she needed a quilt too.  Then a friend told us of a hard family time he was walking through, and a quilt seemed the perfect tangible expression of all the love we were praying to wrap round him.  

I am not an expert at this.  Let's remember that my auspicious career as a quilter began as a nine-year-old, and since then, I've had no formal training other than YouTube videos.  (Now you begin to understand my quilting club dream.)  But believe me - this is not about perfection.   Look at these pictures.  Can you really see my puckery stitches or the places I veered off the edge of the binding? 

The hardest part of a project is sometimes just starting.  But then once you begin, you soon have a different problem.  I told Aaron I won't make any more quilts for a while.  You know, so I can fit making dinner and showering back into my schedule.  

But if I began this post with a confession, I'll end it with another...

I really don't shower that often anyway.  

Monday, December 1, 2014

Entering Advent

It's coming down Christmas, and they're cutting down trees."  You know that Joni Mitchell song?  "I wish I had a river that I could skate away on."  Such a sad song, and not really about Christmas at all, but I was thinking about it as I was decorating my Christmas tree.  Unwrapping funky ornaments made of popsicle sticks and missing my mother so much I almost couldn't breathe." 
I'm home alone tonight, decorating our Christmas tree, which always makes me think of that scene from You've Got Mail.   I started last night, but this morning I remembered I forgot the ribbon.  The ribbon has to go on after the lights and before the ornaments, you know?  Since there are few things more delightfully nostalgic and wistful and wonderful than decorating the tree, I was happy to start over again.  

We had a quiet and simple Thanksgiving.  It was just our family of three plus a friend for Thanksgiving dinner.  We invited our neighbors on both sides, but neither set could come.  The morning of Thanksgiving, I stood at the sink washing dishes and feeling slightly defeated as I remembered that story Jesus tells about the man giving the dinner.  None of his guests could come, so he sends his servants out to gather in all the sick and lame and poor.  Maybe we didn't gather enough.  Maybe we were too timid in our invitations.  Or maybe it was just as important to love and serve our one friend who came.  I don't know.

Friday we ate dinner with my parents and a few other friends.  A puzzle was pulled out after dinner, and I guess you have to be a part of the Casey family to understand that even a puzzle is a competitive game.   If an activity doesn't have a winner, then what's the point?

A note from Aaron: And speaking of competition, we have been on a kick of Settlers and Quiddler. We tend to go on kicks with games. To keep the You Got Mail theme, Lara and I have distinctively different views of playing games against each other. I am a strategist, giving myself the best opportunity to win; pulling moves that can appear evil but am willing to admit defeat with good taste when I get out dueled - business. Lara on the other hand, "Business? What is that suppose to mean? I am so sick of that. All that means is that it wasn't personal to you. But it was personal to me. It's 'personal' to a lot of people. And what's so wrong with being personal, anyway?" And yet, we still keep playing and find our groove in the midst of it. She's my "NY152 insights into my soul."

We lit the first candle on our Advent wreath today.  Anna cried because we wouldn't let her hold the Book of Common Prayer.  Our copy is a tiny black book, and she thinks all the tiny things belong to her.  I let her hold the book of matches instead.  I'm not sure that was a good parenting move.  Don't judge.  Still, even clutching the matches, she cried great fat tears as Aaron prayed.  It wasn't a picture perfect beginning of our Advent tradition, that's for sure.  Aaron was praying, Anna was bawling, and I was silently shaking with laughter.

Oh, I love this season.  Turkey and puzzles and trees and twinkle lights. 

It's the month that we set the gaze of our hearts upon the baby Jesus and the month we set the weight of our expectations upon His return as King.   

Happy Advent, friends.