A Downy Epiphany

I awakened this morning—on Epiphany—with my lower back in full spasm. This has never happened to me before, so in ignorance I did not let it slow me down. The more I moved, the better it seemed, I convinced myself. I stretched and massaged and applied heat. I hauled baskets of laundry from the upstairs to the down. There was snow on the ground for the first time this season so I took my camera outside and snapped some pictures in the cold.

As I stood in my pajamas and boots in the snow, a downy woodpecker kept fussing at me from the Maple tree. She was trying to make a meal of the suet brick I had hung there weeks ago, but the thing was frozen solid. I watched as she pecked furiously with her short, sharp beak, to no avail. I went back inside and lugged the large bin of sunflower seeds out to fill the feeders, hoping she would indulge. I took to moving about stiffly, like a robot, and thought I was doing fine until I moved a certain way and the pain of it caused the whole of me to lock up.

I talked to my doctor and he ordered me to take it easy. Take some ibuprofen, he said. No lifting or vacuuming. I sat at the kitchen table watching the cardinals and snowbirds dip in and out of the feeders, trying to ignore the mountain of boxes stacked neatly at the bottom of the stairs—all the Christmas decorations waiting to be carried back up to the attic.

Epiphany. It means, “a sudden insight into the reality or meaning of something”. Its significance for the church is that God revealed the identity of Jesus as Messiah to those Gentile magi, instead of someone of prestige in the Jewish nation. We believe this was God’s way of showing that Jesus came for all—not just for one people—and really, this is the meaning of Epiphany—that the Lord of Lords reveals himself to each one of us in a unique and personal way.

The story of Epiphany is the story of us all—each on our own long journey through life. So this morning it seemed perfectly fitting that I should be down-in-the-back on this holy day. Forced into immobility, I was faced with the vulnerability and weakness of this body, my humanity—the very thing that Christ took on himself when he came into this world and lived among us. He came as a babe—weak and frail, vulnerable in every way. The wonder of it all fell fresh over me like the light of a new star in the sky, like the fresh-fallen snow in the back yard.

I sat at the table and I wondered and my back ached and I watched as the little downy female clung to the side of the feeder and filled her beak full of sunflowers.

 

White Christmas

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Christmas Day came and went and not one frail flake fell from the sky. New Year’s dawned with a white sky of promise but hope faded with the sun. Not until the Epiphany of the Lord—yesterday—did our little valley get a glimpse of the white stuff. Somehow this seems appropriate on this day that we celebrate the revelation of Christ as king. Epiphany—the “aha!” moment, the unexpected light of insight. And Jesus, like a sudden snowfall, brings wonder into our lives. Epiphany celebrates how God revealed the identity of Jesus as Messiah to the Gentile Magi. It reminds us that Jesus came for all—not just for the Jewish nation—that is the significance of Epiphany—that the Lord of Lords reveals himself to each one of us in a unique and personal way.

This morning I sit in my white chair in my white dining room and watch the sky drift down in flecks of light. It is lovely to be warm and cozy when it is twenty-one degrees outside. I’m enjoying my new quiet time corner and this morning I remembered I promised to share with you when the room was all done.

First, here’s a little of what it used to look like. This is from Christmas a few years ago. The walls were yellow and red.

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And here it is now:

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I’m not a Martha-Stewart-type but beauty does inspire me. This makeover was inspired by some original artwork that I acquired last year. I have a friend who collects art from all over the world and to visit with him is a delight for the eyes and heart. He introduced me to the work of South Carolina artist Claire McElveen and I fell in love. I was able to bid on a few of her original pieces on eBay and have started a small collection of my own.

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Well, of course when the pieces arrived I couldn’t find a suitable place in the house to display them. Such loveliness requires just the right setting, no? Like precious gems. That was when I decided I needed to paint all the dark woodwork white and create a blank slate. It’s so much brighter now and it feels roomier to me. When the walls and woodwork were done, my furniture looked out of place, so I decided to pickle my home office cabinet. You know how it goes, if you give a mouse a cookie … Then I had to do the chairs.

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The entire project took quite a while due to working around the busy schedule (who decides to re-do a room the same time their book is released?). In truth, it was only the threat of holiday visitors that propelled me to finish.

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It was quite a playdate. Amazing what a little paint and some elbow grease can do :). What do you think? Do you like it? Aren’t the paintings lovely? I’m still pinching myself every time I stand in front of them.

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Thanks for letting me share a little of what is making my heart smile on this cold, snowy morning.

Wise Men Still Do

“I know everything that’s ever happened because I finished reading my history book today in class.”
We are on our evening walk when he says it, and he looks at me out of the corner of his eye—crooked grin.
“Oh, you do, do you? Everything up until this very minute?
“Well…it was a world history book, so only the things world-worthy.
Today is Epiphany and as we walk I wonder about the things that have happened that are “world-worthy”.  The things not in the history books. Just the one. The Book.
Does he really know?
Today I gather up the three wandering Magi and tuck the Nativity set back up in the attic. Today we remember the journey these Gentile travelers risked to find the Christ.
But do we really know?
Because it’s not in the history books how they followed that star; how it was the Star in their hearts that kept urging them on. They didn’t know where they were going, how long it would take, or what they would find.
They traveled in the dark.
Today we remember. But do we really forget? Do we forget that tugging at our hearts that keeps us wander closer, closer, closer still?
Today, as I box up the last of Christmas…I know. The most world-worthy thing is not in the history books.
But it’s written in our hearts.
Follow The Star with me? Wise men and women still do. It’s a lifelong journey and the journey of a lifetime.

An Epiphany: Picture for the Year

The tired Christmas lights wink at us on our way out the door and I understand. The boys are grumpy because it’s their first day back to school in a week and it’s 14 degrees outside. I’m a little grumpy too.
“Why does school have to be so early?” Jeffrey moans from the back seat. He is counting the vices of our educational system.
“It rips families apart,” he says dramatically. “It wakes us up unnaturally. And it kills trees. See? Something must be done.”
I nod sympathetically into my coffee cup as I maneuver through morning traffic–think again of some of the warmer advantages of homeschooling…
But we soldier on.
After the boys are dropped and I’m alone in the car I start to talk to God, wonder aloud about how things might have been. On mornings like this I feel all the ache of the lost opportunities.
“I wish, Lord, I wish…”
But I don’t know what to wish for; I don’t know what to say. So I turn the music up and get lost in the local scene.
And I think about it now and I know that I have too many wishes to express. I wish I’d started out different, discovered this love for words earlier and fostered it. I wish I’d gone to seminary or studied theology. I wish I could share faith talk with my mom and dad and brothers and sisters—wish they knew this deep love in me. I wish my husband had been saved sooner and we had raised the boys rooted in faith together instead of all that struggling I did alone in the early years. I wish…I wish it felt whole to be right where I am.
 I wish…
And right in the middle of the wish-fest, from right where I’m sitting, I catch sight of one of those wise men. He’s peeking out at me from behind a berry wreath on the table and the sight of him stops me cold. 
It’s a game we play with the nativity in our house and I shared about it in my sermon on Sunday. It’s tradition in our home to hide those wise guys from our nativity set throughout the house during our Christmas waiting. Whoever finds one—well, it’s his or her duty to hide him again. The trick to the game is to find a clever spot, one in which the wise man will be discovered in a surprising way—sort of a hiding in plain sight. Imagine the surprise when one goes to don a shoe and finds a wise man inside. Or, when turning in for the night, noticing there is a hard lumpy magi under the pillow. The goal, you see, is for the wise men to be found; it wouldn’t do for them to stay hidden. They’re on a journey—looking for the Christ-child. 
The game goes on after Christmas—the wise men wander on for the 12 days of Christmas—which start on Christmas day and end at Epiphany, or January 6. Epiphany is the day we celebrate the Magi’s discovery and worship of the Christ. Last Sunday–when I delivered my first sermon–was Epiphany Sunday. So I preached on this very thing.
The point of my sermon was that this whole faith thing is a long journey. We wander, just like the magi. And the long journey is part of the gift we give him.
So. I’m sitting here in the middle of the wish-fest and I start to consider my journey. Which is not a bad thing to do at the start of a new year, I guess. And I start to feel a little more “at home” in my humanity.
Mine hasn’t been the prettiest of journeys. But neither was the journey to the Cross. And there is something oh, so beautiful—more beautiful than my mind can conceive—in that.
In this post, Mary DeMuth opened my mind to finding a picture that might be a glimpse for me of the new year. As I ponder the journey that has brought me this far, there is no one word that names it. But a picture? Just maybe. Here is the one that has been singing into me.
It’s one of the photos I took when our family was at the sea for Thanksgiving. Every morning, I was up before the sun. What a wonderful gift to celebrate the first ray of light to fall into the ocean. I’ve never felt such peace–such joy to be in my own skin. And yet…the sound of the wave crashing on the shore reminded me that I am not alone; that there is a Power in heaven so great and awe-inspiring. There is such freedom in that. 
I’m going to be carrying this image of God with me throughout the year. And because I am on this great journey, I needn’t worry if it’s enough. I needn’t wish a different path that brought me thus far…
I’m not there yet.
With my sweet friend Jennifer today:
and with the amazing Jen:

To Epiphany and Beyond…

I took down the mistletoe today.

No more lurking in dark corners preying upon prepubescent boys to steal kisses. (I’m talking about my sons…Whom have YOU been kissing? Okay, so it was really more like a hug-tackle. Hey, they aren’t that big on snuggling anymore, who can blame a mom?)

Sigh.

We are there.

We have arrived at the stable. This Epiphany settles over me. God incarnate nestled in manger. He slid into our world through the door of a mother’s womb.

This wonder, this…epiphany…breaks me open, drives me to my knees.

I come with my meager gifts. When I left with them in hand I rejoiced to give gifts of such value. I felt pride at the worth in my hands. Now, standing here…I only feel my lack.

But somehow–when I stand before Him–all this melts away. My heart rejoices, despite my diminutive status. He came for me. I know this. I feel it in my marrow.

While I celebrate at this knowledge (Emmanuel! God with us!), my heart is heavy. For there is the return journey home. I must leave this humble place. I must turn my back on this holiness and step back into the every day.

That’s what boxing up Christmas feels like to me.
I gather all my splashes of red. I take down my nativity. But as I cradle Baby Jesus in my hand, heart skips a beat.
Will he not remain with me?

Isn’t this the gift of Epiphany? The gift of the Cross?

Sorrow spins again into joy. Love’s promise weaves this knowledge into my heart: He never leaves.

We choose some tangible reminders of this truth to remain tucked in our world. The heart remembers the weakness of the flesh–the sin of forgetting.
 
 
And as I gather the splashes of red, mind’s eye focuses on His presence.

And heart whispers Thank You. Thank you for Your Grace.