advent 1: begin with a change.

Today is the first in a December and January series on Advent, Christmas and Epiphany.  Following Sarah Arthur‘s new book, Light Upon Light (which I can’t recommend more highly), this first week begins with the theme “Begin with a Change.”  Check back each Saturday to see what’s new, and in the meantime, enter in and enjoy!  

Flickr Creative Commons: Aff Photography.
Flickr Creative Commons: Aff Photography.

Christmas snuck upon me, again.  For the 35th year in a row, it’s like I went to bed sometime around the first of September, and awoke a day or two ago to find the world decked in green and red, illuminated by the hopeful glow of sparkling white lights.  Egg nog beckons me on an hourly basis and the mail box actually gets emptied every day because I am actually eager to see a stack of Real, Live Hand-Addressed Mail. The Justin Bieber Holiday station blasts through the Pandora speakers most every minute of our day, and I find myself at the gym for the sole purpose of burning off every Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Covered Peppermint Joe Joe I’ve more-than-merrily consumed.

It’s blissful.

And it’s exhausting, already.

Because we’ve yet to buy a tree and the bins of Christmas decorations remain stacked in the garage, somewhere between the lonely and forgotten camping gear and a now-defunct high chair.  I had aspirations of being So On Top of It! this year and getting all my Christmas shopping done by Thanksgiving, but by the time I finished stuffing my face with an Alabamian spread of turkey and gravy, mashed potatoes and sweet potato pie, I realized I’d already lost the battle.

Maybe next year, Self.

In the meantime, my to-do list grows: get decorations out, buy Christmas presents – figure out what to buy for Christmas presents – wrap Christmas presents, place Christmas presents in a place where your favorite two-year-old won’t go to town and unwrap his Christmas presents, figure out how to secure Christmas tree to wall so two-year-old won’t sharpen his climbing skills…

And so it goes.

Because if you’re anything like me, December arrives, and with it comes a flurry of stress and busyness, a rush of expectation and anticipation of the Big Day.  We go to parties and we hire sitters and we slurp our bellies into last year’s Spanx so we can impress and dazzle our friends with good tidings and great joy.  We decorate the kitchen in sprinkles and icing (perhaps frosting a sugar cookie or two in the process), and we say yes-yes-yes to every invitation that comes our way because we don’t want to miss one more minute of the magic and the merriment and the joy.

But in doing so we’re exhausted: tired and sleep-deprived, we exhibit the very nature of Scrooge himself.  We’re short with others – quick to anger and poor in love – and we’re even shorter with ourselves, pummeling our insides as the cycle begins anew at the start of each wintry, tinsel-filled day.

We’ve forgotten to enter into rest and reflection, to sit with that cup of hot tea and enter into the Holy, embracing the unknowing tension of the season.

We’ve neglected to steady our ears for “…the inaudible sound of a secret seed…”, to listen for Hope’s silence in the midst of the rustle and the rush.

As for me, change is imperative.  So I begin with the smallest of shifts, and when that cup of coffee first graces my hands, I read a poem or two and I engage in antiquated prayers.  I whisper “…enmeat yourself so we can rise onto our feet and meet,”** as I stare google-eyed at the little one perched atop my lap, holy cooing his reply.

I make an effort to steady my heart for this birthing grace, breathing hymn’s echoing haunt:

Of the Father’s love begotten,

Ere the worlds began to be,

He is Alpha and Omega,

He the source, the ending He…***

Because sometimes, my friends, you just have to begin with a change. And that is what I’m doing.

How about you?  If you celebrate Christmas (or participate in the Advent season), how do you prepare your heart for the Incarnation? Regardless of belief, what’s one change you’ve made lately that’s made all the difference?  (Also, if you haven’t already, be sure to check out A Very Foodie Giveaway, a contest I’m doing with five other writerly bloggers so YOU can win!)

* = “Freeman Creek Grove” by Paul Willis

** = “Incarnation” by Amit Majmudar.

*** = Translated from a poem by Aurelius Prudentius

peace – indeed, indeed.

peace!

Merry Christmas, friendlies.

Thank you for being a part of all the wonder of the past year – we’ll be laying low for the next week or two here at be, mama. be, because we need to make soups and roast garlic and devour cookies and sip bubbly cocktails.  Oh, and sing the praises of the Baby-King, and love our family and friends well, and hang out in our pj’s all day until we realize it’s closer to that night’s bedtime than the one before …so why change now?

So, I’ll keep this short and sweet, and instead, let the words of this 16th century German hymn send us home:

Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming 
from tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse’s lineage coming,
as men of old have sung.
It came, a floweret bright,
amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.

Might you see and sense and be enveloped by the Floweret Bright.

Peace (indeed, indeed),

chm.

9 last-minute, do-good gifts

I have this friend whose name is, uh, Zara.  And although Christmas is only five days away, she realizes she probably needs to get on the holiday shopping – but she doesn’t just want to give her loved ones more stuff.  In the spirit of giving, she desires to double her giving quotient and help someone in need; therefore, she’s jumping on the giving do-good wagon.

In case you, too, are in need of some last-minute, do-good gifts, consider supporting the goods of these organizations:

1.  A bracelet from Starfish: The Starfish Project helps to support exploited women in Asia.

Starfish supports exploited women in Asia.
The Blake wooden stretch bracelet, Starfish Project.

2. A necklace from TOM’S.  K, I’m stoked – the company that kick-started the movement has added “Marketplace” to their website; now, you can browse by Cause, Region or Brand.  This necklace, for instance, is multi-region, and helps in nutrition efforts for children.  Brilliant!

The Citrine Balboa Necklace, Tom's.
The Citrine Balboa Necklace, Tom’s.

3.  Give a goat.  I’ve long loved the idea of giving a goat, of buying a buck, of Christmas-ing a cow – you get the idea.  Check out Heifer International’s famous guide, “The Most Important Gift Catalog in the World.”  (World Vision does the same).  

4.  Give the gift of KIVA – this is for that someone who really doesn’t need another coffee table book.  Why not instead give a loan to someone around the world in need, through their name?

5.  Get your Noonday on and help a family adopt their little one – Noonday Collection supports artisans around the world, and various independent ambassadors also receive a portion of the profit.  So, in buying (for instance) a pair of Annie’s Feathered Earrings, not only will you help a woman like Sidhama, but you’ll also help Katie and Mike bring home their little one.  Win-win, I say!

Noonday Collection.
Noonday Collection.

6.  Give a year-end gift (…or two, or three) to your favorite organization.  This time of year is crucial for the non-profit community, so help send a kid to camp, or help in the empowerment of women who need it most.  And, like KIVA, this is a fabulous idea to give in someone else’s name.

7. Be hiip!  K, y’all: this is one of my favorites, because hiip’s founder, Nicole, is one of my favorites!  By buying a hiip little fanny pack, a second pack, filled with essentials for the homeless, is given to our friends on the streets of San Francisco.  And, you automatically can look as cool as this:

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 9.03.17 AM
Pacific Heights, hiip.

8.  Help fight human trafficking – While there are so many organizations now doing incredible world in the fight against human trafficking, IJM and Not for Sale are two of the forerunners.  Give a gift in someone else’s name, and help change a life!   

9. Wear a hat!  Finally, Krochet Kids seeks to help empower people to rise above poverty.  And from their website, “We desire holistic freedom for our people to grow and enrich their lives physically, emotionally, and spiritually.”  Yes, yes, yes!  So, don your kid’s head in hoots of hilariousness with this hat:

the hoot, Krochet Kids.
the hoot, Krochet Kids.

Well, I think we’ve officially given Zara some good ideas of gifts that give back.  I know I’m encouraged!

Love Always, Cara “Who’s Zara?” Meredith*

What about you?  What organizations that give back would you add to the list?  And otherwise, how in LOVE with those feathered earrings are you?  Ugh.  

*None of these organizations paid me to promote their products.  I just think they’re great.  And there’s also no guarantee the lovely gifts will reach doorsteps by December 25th – but tis the season for a week-long Christmas celebration!

help come near (advent).

Photo cred: Tiny Prints.
Photo cred: Tiny Prints.

As a child, soon after the orange and brown fall decorations came down, I gleefully began anticipating the Christmas season.  The questions catapulted towards our parents, one after another: “Is it time to get a tree yet, is it time?” and “Mom, when are you going to buy us eggnog?” and “Do you have a stamp so I can mail my letter to Santa?”

With baited breath, we looked forward to the glitter and the magic of the holidays; while commercialism reminiscent of the North Pole certainly took its toll, we also held tightly to Christ’s birth.  Though elementary in understanding, we got the Real Reason for the Season – we held sacred the carols “Silent Night” and “What Child is This?” and our hearts breathed hallowed holiness when candle after candle lit up the old sanctuary in hushed glow.

In Advent, we celebrate the God who is with us, the god-man who lived and breathed here on this earth, entering into the fullness of life through human body.  Were you to ask me what that meant as a child, I would have rightly answered Jesus came to earth as a little baby, “just like me!”  But what strikes me today is not necessarily the how of Christ’s birth, but the why of his humanity: He, the Salvation Pioneer, became fully human in order to help us.  Jesus didn’t do this for the angels, but he did it for people just like us.  He entered into every detail of human life, experiencing the ups and the downs, the good and the ugly, so he might “…be able to help where help was needed,” as Eugene Peterson phrases it in The Message translation.

Now that is a mind-blower!  He who is bright with Eden’s dawn light becomes one of us, experiencing the fullness of every detail of what it means to be human, all in an effort to comfort and help us more.  Perhaps this is what Mary so astutely understood when her soul exaltedly sang of the God near her and with her, alive and kicking in her very belly.  She braved mockery and ridicule, and she clung to God, knowing that he would not leave her in her time of need.  Her Hope had become her Help, doing for her then just as he does for us now.

Might we all rest in this Help come near.*

What about you?  How do you merge the magic and the holiness of the holiday season?  How do you embrace Help Come Near?  

*This article originally appeared in the DPC Advent Booklet, 2013.

the great unknown adventure.

We bought our first tree on Saturday – as in, for the first time in my life, we forked over the money for a Douglas Fir shipped south from the forests of Oregon.

Because call me a cheap Scot, or simply practical (although that label is generally reserved for my man…), there’s actually a need for a Christmas tree in our living room. We’re not traveling this year: I’m not making the sometimes-woeful trek by car or pulling out all stops to entertain a toddler on an hour and a half plane ride.

Instead, we’re staying put.  We’re now the ones waving good-bye to most of our friends who are still traveling for the holidays, and in anticipatory glee, we’re dreaming of our first Christmas together apart from extended family.

And truthfully, it makes me giddy and unsure and delighted, all at the same time.  At 34 years old, I’ve never spent the 25th of December apart from my parents.  I’ve never not known what it’s like to eat crab on Christmas Eve, or chop down the tree from Palmer’s Tree Farm in Keizer.  I’ve only known shopping for stocking stuffers the day before Christmas – boys for girls, and girls for boys – and cinnamon rolls, fresh out of the oven, on Christmas morning.

Our little family of three is embarking on its own rite of passage.

And isn’t a necessary part of the journey?

Maybe saying yes to the Great Unknown Adventure is a bit like traveling to a new country for the first time: you finally land in Roma, and squealing, you absorb the shouts and sounds and smells that make up this new land.  You hail a cab, but in your very broken “I swear I listened to three Learn Italian! CD’s found in the discount bin at Barnes & Noble,” you wonder if you actually know enough to make it on your own.  Because you haven’t done this before, so even though you’re a little scared you’ll land in a ditch far from the Audrey Hepburn Roman Holiday encounter of a trip you dreamed of, you begin to trust in the moment.  You trust that you are strong enough and brave enough and smart enough, too, and that what you have and who you are right here, right now is enough.  

And I suppose, in a tiny sort of way, this encompasses the adventure we’re embarking on for Christmas this year – and we are elated thus far.  

gettin' our Holiday on.
Gettin’ our holiday on.

Because sometimes when you’re on the Great Unknown Adventure, you drive an hour south in search of the perfect tree farm, but despite your best navigational efforts, you never find the place.  Instead, you see a goat farm, and you think to yourself, Well, we are on an adventure, aren’t we?  So you pull into the Harley Dairy Goat Farm, and much to your heart’s delight, the chèvre samples are plentiful, and a dear friend has landed there too, and, well, what do you know?  Goat farms just happen to sell Christmas trees.  So the tall man straps a tree to your car with twine, and you begin praying to eight-pound, six-ounce little baby Jesus that he knows what he’s doing.  Might this tree stay put and not go flying like Santa’s reindeer onto the great Highway 1 abyss, pretty pretty please.

And then you get home, and you and the HBH [Hot Black Husband] eat sushi and split a red velvet cupcake; you don your red and green hats, and with John Legend’s epic O Holy Night playing in the background, you decorate your first tree.

Who knows what next year will bring – whether a goat farm and sushi and cupcakes will be formally deemed Tradition – but you just know that you’ve participated fully in the Great Unknown Adventure.

And that, my friend, is exactly what you’re supposed to do.

xo, c.

What about you?  What Great Unknown Adventure are you embarking on this year?  And, if you’ve jumped into celebrating a holiday “on your own,” what new traditions have come your way?  

epiphany & christmas decor in january.

Confession: our Christmas decorations are still up. And I’m totally okay with it.

Usually, by the time New Year’s rolls around, it’s out with the old and in with the new; the red and green, the glitter and glow are put away, stuffed in the basement anticipating the next December. But this year the Target clearance section Christmas bargains I just found for 75% off have proudly been on display for the past six days, and the silver glittered words “peace” and “joy” still rest gently against the fireplace. Granted, we didn’t have but a two foot Charlie Brown Christmas tree, since the holidays were celebrated in festive faire up in Oregon, but the rest of the decorations -including all the ornaments, hung on the wine rack with care – remain.

I suppose I’m still chewing on this season, sucking all the marrow I can out of Canon’s first Christmas, along with all the recent changes to our little family.

I still sing “Silent Night” to him before he goes to bed, and might just keep it up until March or April.

I just made Betty Crocker’s peanut butter cookies for our neighbors – Irina and Kim, Mary and Sophia, Lisa and Patrick – yesterday, with attached Christmas cards. Tis the season, I say, and who’s going to turn down free cookies anyway, even if they’re two weeks late?

And maybe I’m simply caught up in the moment, in being with thoughts of Christ’s Incarnation, and now, 12 days later, with Epiphany.

To me, it’s a fascinating and forgotten celebration for much of the Church today; still celebrated by the Eastern Orthodox Church in particular, the Day (or Feast) of Epiphany follows 12 days after Jesus’ birth. Some say it marks the day of his baptism, while others include it within the gift-giving tradition as the day the wise men arrived in Bethlehem. Writes Emilie Griffin in God With Us,

Epiphany comes from the Greek word epiphaneia, which is translated both as “coming” and as “manifestation” or “appearing.” While Christmas celebrates Christ’s coming in the Incarnation event, Epiphany celebrates manifestation – the ways in which the Incarnation is revealed to us.”

Christ made manifest, this, this is what we celebrate and this is who we celebrate. Might mine eyes be opened to seeing the many ways in which Light and Beauty and Truth is being revealed in this very moment.

And so, if leaving the decorations up for just a few more days means seeing a little teeny bit more of Christ revealed, then I’m in.

Happy Epiphany, ya’ll.