Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Christmas Kaleidoscope

Do you remember the kaleidoscopes you got as a child? You held the long tube up to the light and looked through to see a myriad of colors at the other end. Then you twisted the tube, the colors changing shapes and designs, with new colors replacing the old ones. It never looked the same way twice.

Christmas is much like that. There’s the green of the Christmas tree itself, as well as wreaths and holly. And don’t forget the mistletoe! Green brings freshness into the staleness of our everyday life. The mundane gets replaced by having a tree in the corner of the living room. What a concept! So it can be with our spirit. Life-as-usual is replaced with the realization that the freshness of Christ Himself came to dwell with man, right in the corner of our living room!

Red lifts our spirits and gladdens our hearts. It’s found in ribbons and bows that wrap around a gift. Isn’t it fun to get presents from our children, spouse, or friends? We place them under the tree, waiting for the right moment to untie the red ribbon and see what lies within. So it is with God’s gift to us. In the fullness of time He presented His gift, the gift of His only son. We can leave that present under the tree, simply admiring its beauty, or we can touch the blood-red ribbon He wrapped the gift with, and open the mystery waiting inside.

Then there’s the beautiful blue that offsets and contrasts with the other Christmas colors. Blue can have a very calming effect on people, and we all know we need a heaping serving of serenity at this time of the year. Though we want everything to be perfect, we have to realize we can’t make that happen. Only God was able to do that.

Think about it—take the stress surrounding the census, a nearly 100-mile donkey trip, a husband who refused to make motel reservations, and a KOA campground that was severely lacking in amenities, and you have the stress surrounding Mary at the time of the first Christmas. I wonder how she was feeling and speaking as she made that long, uncomfortable trip. Was she serene, sitting on the bony back of a donkey mile after mile, a beatific smile on her face, already posing for all the Christmas cards that would grace people’s mantels a couple thousand years later?

Or was she griping like I would have been? "Joseph, are we there yet? My back is killing me. Yes, I’m sure you would have preferred to leave me home with my mother, but a wife’s supposed to follow her husband, you know! Griping? I’ll show you griping! If you think it’s so easy, you try doing this when you’re nine months pregnant!"

The Bible doesn’t record any of that. But what we do know is that Emmanuel, God With Us, joined Mary and Joseph in the midst of their discomfort, fears, uncertainty, economic unrest, and distance from family. Ever been in that place? Isn’t it comforting to know we’re not left to muddle through on our own, but that the very Lord of Heaven walks along beside us?

Silver and gold remind us of the royalty of Christ. Though He came as the babe in the manger, He will return as the conquering king. Every knee will bow before Him in recognition of who He truly is and what He has done for mankind. May we, this Christmas season, look around and see Jesus in the world around us. We don’t have to wait until He comes back.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Book Review of The Fence My Father Built, by Linda S. Clare

Take a father who longs to be part of his daughter’s life, a broken marriage between an interracial couple, and a young girl who grows up knowing a part of her life is missing. Add a legacy of alcoholism and addiction that follows the girl into adulthood, and her need to know the side of the family she was never around. Mix in a rebellious teenage girl, potbellied pigs, an intriguing male neighbor, and a fence line built of oven doors, and you have The Fence My Father Built.

Set mostly in the open range of Central Oregon, Ms. Clare’s novel follows the story of Muri Pond, who has been called to settle some family business left behind when her father dies. A feud existed between her dad and Linc Jackson, the man who "owns" the town, with the ownership of land and a creek in question. It’s up to Muri to find the cause of the disagreement and try to right it. In the process, she discovers much about her own background and faith, and why it’s so important.

Ms. Clare draws from her own experience of discovering her Native American heritage. She brings to life eccentric characters whose lives present an interesting change from the norm. She did a great job capturing the ongoing clash between Muri and her teenage daughter. (I’m thinking the voice of experience here!) Ms. Clare deals with cultural relationships that are seldom explored in books, leading to thought-provoking moments for the reader.

The Fence My Father Built is a well-written novel that will leave you waiting impatiently for Ms. Clare’s next book. I gladly give it four stars.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

What I Learned at the Knee of NaNo

With a title like this, maybe you think I have a special nickname for my grandma, and I've been sitting at her feet gleaning great wisdom. (As my dad always said, "I learned it at my mother's knee, and certain other joints!")

No, my grandparents have all passed on, so I'm not talking about them. I'm referring to NaNoWriMo, which stands for National Novel Writing Month. It's actually a world-wide writing event, in which you sign up and strive to write 50,000 words during the month of November. My understanding is that 177,000 people signed up for it this year, and 30,000-something met their goal. I'm very happy to say I was one of them!

Fifty thousand words may not sound like a lot, but when I first sat down in front of my blank computer screen, it seemed nearly insurmountable. I only had the germ of an idea for a story. I knew who my main character was and one event that would happen to her, but that was it. Not much to go on, huh?

I decided to jump right in and have something happen to her on the first page. The story began to grow from there. The fun thing about NaNo is that the writer is not allowed to edit themselves as they write. When I've written in the past, I could get hung up for ten minutes looking through my thesaurus trying to find the exact word to express myself. But not during Nano. I had the freedom to throw words on the screen and keep typing. My story makes sense (I didn't repeat one sentence over and over) but it's certainly not good writing. I don't have the layers and subplots woven through like I will when it's polished. But I've got a great start.

For the past year or more I have just dinked around with my writing. I've had so many family situations I've been in the midst of that I felt it wasn't possible to write. And yet at the end of the day I would often think, "Just what have I accomplished today?"

During NaNo I found I could set daily word counts and meet them. Most days I did between 2,000 and 2,500 words, but one day I managed 4,300. I was able to take days off for family activities by going over my quota for several days in a row. I learned to have contests with myself. I wrote down how many words I wrote in a thirty minute time frame and tried to beat it in the next thirty minutes. And I always did.

I learned to say no to some invitations in order to keep writing. I learned that when family crises continued to hit and I didn't want to write I could still force myself to do so, regardless of my feelings.

I think my grandma would be proud.