I’m a Cub Fan- For Reals

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I don’t know who to credit this photo to, but – it’s perfect.

The Chicago Cubs are in the World Series, and if you have been cloistered from reality somehow, and didn’t know that already, let me tell you that they are playing against the Cleveland Indians and two games have already been played.  Each team has won ONE game each, in Cleveland.  This Friday, they will play game 3 in Wrigley Field for the first time ever. Games 4 and 5 will also be played in that historic ball park before this weekend is over – barring significantly bad weather.

One celebrity fan, Bill Murray, won a Mark Twain Award (I’ll let you google that) this week, and someone with a microphone asked him what it felt like to have the Cubs playing in the World Series.  He said that he’d listened to the Sportscasters trying to explain what it feels like and they just don’t get it.  He was dead right.  All they can talk about is what hadn’t been invented or what else in history hadn’t happened yet.  That’s not the point for any real Cub fan.

When you’ve waited your whole life, almost seeing it happen several times, and staying faithful even during the years when you know the team is a disgrace on the field, you get a glimpse of what it means to be a Cub fan right now.

When you take all the trash talk about your team from the other side of town, and other teams that do better (cough*Cards*cough), you get another glimpse of the life and times of a Cub fan. Yet we will still wear our team colors with more pride than courage, and with more sense of thrill than grudging responsibility.  You may even begin to save and collect the best of all the slurs, as badges of creative honor. “They wouldn’t talk trash unless we matter,” we’d tell each other with a wink.

When your team’s playing field has more historic significance than your division opponents, but their win cycles have been more fruitful – you remain tenaciously steadfast anyway, bragging on the history of the edifice if not the skills of the team. And that’s when you begin to realize what a Cub fan’s life might be like.  You will appreciate how traditions have held us together (like throwing the other team’s ball back from the bleachers), and how folklore has helped name our businesses in ways no newcomer knows about unless a local lets them in on the lore (Billy Goat Tavern).

These are things no White Sox fan nor Cardinal fan has had their parents explain to them, nor have they had anything similar to explain about their team to their children.  It’s distinctly a part of the Cub fan traditions, and  there has been enough time for our children have told their children – even if they move to another state.  Because that’s what Cub fans do.  And when the Cubs come to play in our different states and stadiums, we tend to crowd out the locals who think that they are good enough fans for their home team.  We also tend to out shout them!

What other team has a tradition of a team song karaoke at the end of a winning game?  I bet they’ll all begin working on that, though, because that’s how memories and thrilling moments of “we’re all in this together” happen. And we began doing it while our team was referred to as “the lovable losers”, doggonit!

These are things most “johnny come lately” folks will never feel or fully understand.  It’s certainly nothing the sportscasters outside of Chicago Metro area can ever explain, either. That’s ok, because WE are the kind of fandom that might not like that you waited so long, but we’re still going to tug you into the fold and make sure that you sing louder on the chorus when we sing “GO CUBS GO”.

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A Different Kind of Mother

 

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I’m pretty quiet about my birth mother in life and on FB, unless the subject comes up.

When I see someone post something mushy and in the way of tribute for motherhood, I will usually leave a message saying, “I’m so glad you had a wonderful mother.”  I’m tired of just passing them by, and it’s the honest truth.  I want every kid to have a nurturing parent who guides them in ways that give them the freedom to live out their passions.

The thing is, my mother was someone who was never diagnosed as mentally ill because she never had a problem with her Borderline Personality Disorder.  With her 8 marriages (married 2 guys twice), messy life decisions, and inability to manage most of her financial dealings, my siblings and I all ended up suffering from PTSD from dealing with her and her machinations.  It’s clear that she was narcissistic and didn’t perceive our hurts or fears as anything significant.  It was always about her and her dramas.  This meant we basically went without nurture during our neediest times in life.  It’s really hard to celebrate what you wished for but never got with any kind of consistency.

She was a charming woman with winsome traits when she wanted something from you, or even if she just wanted to be liked.  She took pretty good care of her appearance, and honestly tried to be some kind of good cheerleader in her later years, when BPD tends to be less intense for post-menopausal women.  I was a bit surprised by how lessened her behavior traits were until I read an article that said that the lowering of hormones did that.

It didn’t banish or cure her mental illness though, it just made it trickier to know when you were dealing with her or her illness.  Before, you always knew to just deal with the illness because the person behaving outside the traits didn’t last very long. With the new situation, where there was an equal time exhibition, you just tended to get hurt more often by not knowing when the shift happened.

So when my mother died in 2013, it was with a nearly audible sigh of relief that her children mourned her passing.  She died in a peaceful way in spite of her more cruel diseases.  But for the very first time, we didn’t have to brace for her erratic behaviors, her weird letters, beseeching phone calls, or her manipulative conversations to do what she wanted done in the way she wanted it done.  There would no longer be her odd comments that made you doubt something you were sure of before she spoke.

There would also be no more insightful comments on different family members who caught her attention, or jokes about things that needed to be seen in humorous ways, for she was intelligent and had a lively sense of humor.  There would also be no more thoughtful comments during her times of sanity that would bring me to a delayed epiphany.  There would be no more times for me to find another waterfall picture for her computer wallpaper, or comfortable hours where she relived her childhood for me, and introduced me to the people she saw as significant in her life.  Family folks would become more than names in a family tree carefully charted, but more like people with flesh and blood and dreams and fears  – and yes, even heartbreaks.

I lost many good things the day my mother died, and that still has some painful thorns on occasion.  But more than that, I lost a slippery slope of conflict and despair, and that’s where the relief comes in.

We honored her with a Memorial Service in her church – the very first they’d ever had. Most folks choose to use a Funeral Home.  Ma had her final arrangements made at the funeral home ahead of time, with a life insurance policy that paid for almost everything.  There was another life insurance policy to cover what the first didn’t.  So, she was thoughtful about not leaving us one more mess of hers to clean up – the good person who lived with a mental illness having reined the most at the end.  We were able to carry her urn into the church, so we didn’t have those huge fees of moving a body.  That’s how we were able to give her the kind of service I am sure she’d have been thrilled to see and be a part of.

The ladies of the church served us a lovely buffet, and we made sure they got something back for their trouble. The memory was such a time of healing for all of us who had endured our collateral damage from her mental illness. We needed that more than I can say.  We could all gather, her children, her siblings, dear close friends and others, to celebrate the things we admired about her in complete safety for once.  If we did that in her hearing while she lived, it usually would end up being used as a springboard for her next bad behaviors – so we were all very careful about what we said in her hearing.

So that’s why, when Mother’s Day comes along, I will pray for all of the mother’s I know of in my life, first.  But then I shift to pray for all of the kids – young and old – who have mother’s with mental illness who aren’t getting help for it or managing it in healthy ways.  I get it, and it’s not deserved.  Mental illness is neither the fault nor responsibility of the children.  Even if they do something plainly wrong, the reactions will frequently be from the illness and rarely from a careful response of correction.

But – we can come out of it with amazingly impressive life skills, if we get help to fix what we missed through recovery programs like Codependents Anonymous (something I resorted to as a way of managing her erratic behavior), or other therapeutic options for good self-health and healing.  Once I got a good handle on what was healthy and how to live it in my life better, it helped me to know how to celebrate the best of my mother, without being unguarded against her lesser version of life.  I knew how to deal with the worst of her behaviors, though it still wasn’t a desirable thing to endure. It was messy, and my timing could be off, but it was more manageable.

She’s healed where she is now, and that’s a very good thing for me to focus on.  I don’t want to reflect her bad stuff to my children or anyone else.  So, it helps to remember that we laid that bad stuff to rest on that lovely May day of her Memorial.

Happy Heavenly Mother’s Day, Mom.  I love you.  We’re all doing well, and we miss the good moments with you.  We miss the hugs (but not the rummage sale gifts – jus sayin).  So glad you’re getting the hugs you missed from your long lost beloveds, now.

Free Write Friday – Memory Prompt

Memory Prompt: Write about your earliest memory. Good, bad, happy or sad. Before you begin, take time to dwell in that memory. Absorb everything you can about it. What you see, what you smell, what you hear and mostly, how you feel. Let it resonate. Marinate your mind in that one moment. Then begin.

My very earliest memory I had confirmed by my birth mother.  At first, she said it wasn’t true, but later she decided that it was true after I added a few details and she remembered the incident.  “You have to remember that this wasn’t so significant to me, along with all of the other things going on at the time.  I mean, you were safe and everything was ok, so what was there to remember?”  Point taken.

I have a partial memory of just seeing my mother nursing my sister who was 24 months younger than I.  But it was just that, a curious “mental photograph”.  My first whole memory was when I was just over 2 years old, since my sister was already born. To begin with, I have to explain that I was an energetic bed rocker.  I would move my crib around with the force of my rocking I’ve been told.  My mother’s sister was living with us at the time, and she remembers that sometimes getting into the room was a challenge because the crib was against the door.

The memory begins with seeing something next to my crib (the window) and feeling surprised.  It was not usually there.  I apparently climbed out of my crib and fell through the window screen, to the ground below.  Because the next part of the memory was that I was laying on the ground (not feeling any injury). I was only wearing a diaper, and it was dark.  Then I was lifted up by a tall thin man with a hat.  He made nice sounds at me, and I felt just fine being held by him.  He carried me along, and soon there was a doorway that was very bright and my mother and aunt were facing us, making other sounds.  The man handed me over to my mother, and I was ok with that, but wouldn’t have minded staying with the man.  I was not frightened at all, or uncomfortable.

My mother put me back into bed after moving it, is the final part of the memory, and I was very disappointed that my interesting evening had ended so routinely.  I had an expectation for more excitement – and that is a strong element of my memory.  Being in bed was boring – finding a way out of bed was exciting!

 

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Christmas Warmth is not Always Romance

I just feel like I have to rant a bit.  I am honestly tired of the Hallmark Channel making Christmas all about romance.  I really am annoyed with that.  It doesn’t even address rekindled romances with married couples who aren’t separated or divorced (as the movie The Bishop’s Wife does).  Most of us really enjoy watching stories about folks in situations like our own, and they aren’t delivering.

That’s the appeal of The Christmas Story, and that’s why it can play for a whole 24 hour period, knowing there will be a large enough audience for each hour of airtime. In that movie, Dad and Mom are quirky, but they seem to have a real affection for each other, and their kids, with an enthusiasm for life.  Add some holiday twists to their situation, and there you go!  It turns into something iconic for the season.  Even if we’re single, we don’t end up feeling lonely and left out, like a romance story can do.  We were once kids ourselves, and the story is told from the oldest child’s point of view.  So we become a bit nostalgic – and most of Christmas is about nostalgia. We can see how our parents may have been like his parents in some ways, and we snicker.  Or we just feel the warmth of remembering our parent’s enthusiasm for filling in their family roles.  If we’re parents now, we may see ourselves in his parent’s actions and cringe with a blush – but it’s all in good fun and utterly warmhearted.  These parents aren’t brutish or crass, but they are imperfect – the thing is that they are present and accounted for come what may.  Even if a pack of dogs eat the turkey – someone remembers the Chinese restaurant is open and gets the family there for dinner. That’s all any kid ever needs to feel solidly loved and good about who they are. To have parents who are present and don’t bail.

With every Hallmark movie turning into a romance story, they are turning many of us away in droves.  Young kids don’t want romance.  To them, the opposite sex is viewed with some suspicion.  They are either an utter bother, or they can be acceptable playmates – until they aren’t. So, all of those romance movies are not usually good for family viewing.

Some of us are happily single, or just not drawn into the fiction of romantic dialogs that no one can match in real life without a script (that’s another blog for another day).  I’m not too old for affectionate relationships with family and even good friends who I adore.  I just don’t enjoy watching a young couple I don’t know working out their romantic complications. I won’t enjoy their romance story in a vicarious way at all.  I have many friends who are my age who would push me away and say that they love a good romance; but Hallmark is cranking them out so cheaply that they aren’t even putting out GOOD romances.  So even these friends are sighing in discomfort and wishing there was better stuff to watch.

My point is that most of the world doesn’t revolve around romance, though there is a market for it if it is done well and in the right places.  You need a real story to go with the romance that caters to the rest of us,  – like Miracle on 34th Street did or as they did with The Lemon Drop Kid.  Or even as It’s a Wonderful Life worked.  There’s a romance in It’s a Wonderful Life, but the story is about how lives are valued. Since Christmas is an easy crisis point for anyone’s life – it’s become iconic and is watched and enjoyed by folks of all ages and stages.

You get something like White Christmas produced as a movie, with all of the over the top pageantry and a distinctively appealing song that wasn’t about romance, and that becomes the formula for success that keeps the family watching it over the years (though kids can be bored with the story, which makes it a good bedtime movie).

Some think they can’t make ‘em like that anymore “because the age of the musical is over”.  Tell that to the folks counting the revenues from Dirty Dancing and High School Musical (both 1 and 2).  There’s an audience, if the story is worthy, the production solid, talent pool dug deeply enough, along with the tunes being catchy and applicable to our lives.  Again, those were centered on romances, but there were enough other things going on to confound or enhance the romance angle that they could draw in those of us who aren’t drawn into romances.

There’s no real explanation for the attraction for A Charlie Brown Christmas beyond the need for something that draws us out of the clamor of the season. It reminds us that we don’t have to be perfect, or drawn into overspending thanks to smooth marketing, or even gathered in a group, to enjoy the holiday’s appeal.  If there’s anything else like that one out there, I don’t know what it could be.

What makes this all a bigger sore point for me, and the reason I am taking Hallmark to task more than the other producers of “Holiday Specials for Family Viewing”, is that I used to enjoy Hallmark’s television specials and looked forward to them every holiday season.  That was long before they had a channel all their own, though.  Now, I don’t even bother turning any of them on without checking to see what the story line is, first.  And every time I check these past few years – it’s some shallow storyline that is poorly produced and always just about a complicated romance – with no strong talent pool performing the script.  Even the commercials for these movies aren’t alluring.

Hallmark – are you listening?

Advent is Important to Me

There are some holidays that just thrill us to think of them.  Sometimes it’s because of a particular memory, and sometimes it’s just because of the thrill of the things that are traditional to the holiday.

One of my favorite holidays is Advent.  I separate it from Christmas, because Advent is my worship portion of that time of year.  This is where I take time out for my Creator who kept His word to all humanity, in spite of the centuries of time that it took to make it happen.  It’s enthralling to consider why God waited until all of humanity was able to know about the promised Messiah.  This was thanks to the Roman roads and authority that kept travel safe, and also promoted the transfer of knowledge between civilizations.  There needed to be a way for most of humanity to learn of God’s promise, and then of how it unfolded with a newborn birth of a babe in a manger.

There’s a song titled, “It’s About the Cross” that was popularly recorded by Philips, Craig and Dean, and I like it – but it’s wrong.  Advent is a great deal about the Promise coming true, more than the cross.  The cross is critical to the fulfillment of the Promise, that’s true.  But Advent is about preparing for the Messiah’s coming, and acknowledging that we needed Him.  The cross comes after that, and has a place all its own.  There’s no need to blend them, or there is a danger of overlooking the singular value of each occasion on its own.  The cross gets our focus at Lent and Easter, and it deserves separate consideration.

So, Advent is where I intentionally make a quiet place in time for me to ponder the significance of God’s promise to send a Messiah from Davidian lineage to overcome the enemy that caused Humanity’s fall.  This is where I consider that God chose to send His Son because no other person in time could do what needed to be done.  This is where I consider how he arrived at the decision to send Jesus – Yeshua in Hebrew – as a babe with a birth that would be witnessed and noted significantly by people of that time.  You have to hold a newborn infant closely, not just stand back in awe.  They must be embraced and given focused attention, or they will not thrive.  I’m reminded that my love for God has to be like that, close and with focus – or I will not thrive.

Traditionally, Europeans would use Advent wreaths for devotional expression during the four weeks preceding the celebration of the infant birth.  The wreath would lay on a table, or be suspended horizontally from a ceiling, with four candles on the wreath and one in the middle.  Coming from a European background, I embrace that tradition with its quiet influence.

As I raised my young children, we honestly enjoyed the Advent wreath ceremonies very much.  Some nights we might start out feeling pushed into something inconvenient.  But every time we were at the end of the worship activities, it felt a bit sad to blow out the candles and turn on the lights for all of us.  Sometimes we just didn’t do it right away.  We’d enjoy some treats and just visit a bit and talk about whatever we wanted to talk about.

There were some weeks that we missed lighting the newest candle.  That was ok, since there were other nights when we could light up more than one.  It was rare for us to miss the final week when all four candles would be lit.

Christmas, for me, was the secular and happy occasion that followed Advent.  I could allow Godly memes and themes to influence my decoration choices, and certainly my song lists; but I admitted that it was secular, and still joyous and happy.  It was where I could shop and give gifts, and dress up for happy occasions, as well as gather with family and friends for good food and perhaps some games and teasing.

Once all of the children were grown and flown, and I was on my own, I would choose to set up an Advent wreath and forgo the decking of a tree.  My time was limited with work or perhaps my health wasn’t up to the work of a tree.  A wreath was simpler and more possible.  It was also more beneficial to me, than the hustle and bustle of the secular holiday.

Some folks are working hard on making Christmas their act of worship, and I don’t think that they are wrong at all.  I just couldn’t make it work for me.  Just as there are so many different ways to decorate a Christmas tree, there are so many ways for people to celebrate God in their lives.  All of them are valid if what is being done stays focused on God more than the ceremonies or the decorations.

I couldn’t say that was true of my ability to celebrate Christmas most of the time.  I certainly enjoyed more than one church program, service or musical performance, and basked in the warmth of the Pastor’s blessing as the congregation was reminded of our Creator’s intentions during this season.  I’ve also positively pointed out to my children how the evergreen trees point toward their Creator, and how they are evergreen because they never die – like God’s love for us.  I have definitely had a nativity scene for them to set up and discuss as well.  But, it all tended to get overwhelmed in the holiday blur of baking all of the right foods, hurrying to each of the events, and ensuring we were dressed appropriately for the pictures that would be taken, as well as having all of the gifts bought and wrapped for the folks we didn’t want to forget.  Advent never seemed to have that problem – for me.

Even a huge snowfall that might ruin the plans for the special visit with family or the musical event at church, or – whatever we thought we had to hurry to – even those plans didn’t matter if we chose to just stay home and light up the candles on the wreath when I had a family.  As a single, senior aged, woman, it still doesn’t matter so much to me that it’s just me lighting the candles, reading scripture, and praying to God.  This is where I keep my heart in the right condition to enfold the Messiah (or even letting the Messiah make my heart right to enfold Him) who came so long ago.

If I get no gifts, I know that the biggest gift was given to me before I knew I needed it.  If I can give no other gifts, I try to offer the one I received much later than it was given.  The gospel message and the offer of a Savior instead of a Judge.  If I have no decorations, I will revel in the ones that others have worked on displaying, and let them know, when I can, how much it touched me to see and enjoy their efforts.

So, Advent is my favorite holiday at this time of year.  How about you?  What do you like most about this time of year, and what makes it consistently special even through a hard time of austerity?

 

Why is it Bland if it Doesn’t Burn?

I enjoy cooking when I’m not under some deadline, have insufficient ingredients for the meal I want to make (and so must use brain cells to be creative), or when it’s just for myself.  I think it’s one of my love languages, to cook something tasty for someone I love.  It’s a huge blessing when they like it, and compliment it.

So, as I have been reading the hashtag about how white cooks serve only bland food, I admit I giggled first (thinking of all the bland cooks I know), and then I got a bit riled.

It was funny at first, because I have met some wives who married men who won’t eat anything but the blandest of foods.  So that’s what they’ve been forced to prepare and serve.  I also remember when there weren’t so many options for frozen meals that were tasty or affordable.  You usually went to a restaurant or cafe to eat when you didn’t eat at home.  Or you could order take out (pizza, asian food, etc).  So there were a lot of lazy cooks or inexperienced cooks who didn’t use more than vinegar, sugar, butter, salt and pepper for their flavorings.  When things got tight, the butter and sugar might not be so freely used.  So, sometimes it was economy that made the difference.

What riled me is when so many of the comments under that hashtag talked about how only Caucasian cooks would have such flavorless food, and I saw a lot of references to “adding some heat” to improve the food that was served.  How does making your mouth burn turn into adding flavor?

I am very plainly a “foodie” and my size shows it.  I have a spice cabinet that made my sister’s eyes pop when she saw it, and my friend laugh as they unpacked it for me during a move a few years ago.  I believe in seasoning food to add flavor and am not shy about using paprika, lavender, garlic or even cumin to different foods to see what it does to make the natural flavors pop.  At no time does anyone need to gasp and grab a glass of water to make me smile and think I’ve delivered a good dish to serve.  I want them to really taste their food, and the seasonings or spices that I add.  If I used too much, I like to hear that, too.  I’ll go easier next time, and nudge the recipe back a bit.

But my ire changed to giggles as I remembered what my foster father taught us so many years ago.  He was a life long history student, and had a passion for the arcane facts of each social group he could find information about.  When we kids happened to ask, “why do hot climates serve hot spicy food?”  He was forced to wait (by Mom) until after dinner to tell us.

While she removed the debris of dinner, he explained with a grin, “It’s because in the hot climates, meat spoils faster.  So they use spice to both hide the flavor of spoiled meat, and to make it more possible to eat without getting severely ill.  The English began using a lot of curry when they were in India for just that reason.  There’s a letter between English officers in a book upstairs where they were telling each other to have the cooks learn from the natives how to use it for the meat that would spoil when it was shipped from England if it wasn’t salted or in a brine.”

So- I had to laugh at the thought that those who complain about people who allow the flavor of meat to be lightly seasoned so only the meat flavors are savored, are generally touting the cooking habits of those who had to serve spoiled meats.

Well – I’m glad that they can enjoy it.  I’m also going to take a pass on that food – with a private grin.

Advent – What a Blessing!

Advent has saved Christmas for me in sooo many ways.  It helped me be calm when I had no money to give gifts.  It helped me not feel so unloved when I was given few gifts.  It always gave me a way out of the growing intensity of commercialism that has invaded the season.

How did that happen, you ask?  Well, it all began in 1982 – before stores were doing the special sales that people will line up for (or even camp out for) like they do today.

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There’s something about candleglow in a child’s eyes that just blesses me.

When my children were very small (I only had 2, but I frequently cared for my sister’s two quite a lot at that time, so age ranges were 18 months to 6 years old), I found an article on family devotions using an Advent Wreath. I’d grown up Lutheran, so I knew what one was, but always had thought it was just something used in church. Using it at home was a novel idea to me.  With that in mind, I bought a plastic wreath, and searched all over for purple and pink candles. Couldn’t find any of those color, so I decided to use 3 green and one red with the center candle remaining white. Then I used Playdoh to form cups for the candles (seriously – that’s what I had, so that’s what I used). It was wobbly, but it would work I decided.

We had a high piano, and I decided that’s where the wreath would go during the days we weren’t using it. Safe from playing toddlers and childish super hero moments; but a quiet reminder of the season for me, and it blessed. On each Wednesday night (a night much easier to manage than a Sunday for me), we’d get the kids to put away toys and prepare for Advent devotions.

At first, it was protested and fussed at, but the smallest was tucked into a walker thing, the toddler crouched on the floor near the coffee table, looking at the wreath with all of the candles in it, wondering what would happen next. I had made some cinnamon toast, and cut it into strips for treats. We had Koolaid for the kids and hot coffee for us grown ups. Other times would be Christmas cookies and eggnog, but our very first was much simpler – cause I was tired, and my husband less willing to participate than the kids were (sigh).

While my husband worked second shift, we’d do this just after lunch and before nap time instead of the evening.  We frequently would have playmates of the kids’ join us (with parental permission, of course).  Drapes were drawn for darkness.

As I lit the first candle and laid down the rules, interest began to pick up.

Rules: NO ONE GETS TO TOUCH THE CANDLE during our family devotions. The wreath was shaky after all.
EVERYONE has to be seated and cooperate or no treats!

Q &A: Yes, we’ll have treats. (what are we doing?) We’ll be singing and hearing a story about Christmas and why we celebrate it. (Is this going to take a long time (husband)? Not more than 15 mins, since our kids are so small – but the more questions I answer and the more time it takes to get everyone settled – the longer the devotions will take, k?

Moving on – I turned off all the lights in our small apartment and the Presence seems to descend on us as I had hoped. Candlelight is such a blessing, even to a Pagan, lol.

I had a plan, and I followed it for years.  Open with a song: God’s Love is Like a Circle  (our version was sung to the Marine’s Hymn, but – you choose), have the kids clapping in a circle as they sing it.  This opens the lesson on why the wreath is round, and then teach why it’s made of evergreens (God – and His love never die).  Teach about tonight’s color and why it works (for green: it’s the color of life and God gives us new life when we ask for it: Explain.  Etc).

Give permission to enjoy treats (or serve them when the kids are too young and wouldn’t be able to wait), now.  Read something from the Children’s Bible (my favorite was The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes – but any good one will do) about the season we’re celebrating.  The treats help to keep the kids quiet, and helps the grown ups to feel blessed.  I have always found it to work well this way and it sets a nice tone to the event.  Always finger foods, and on pretty plates (I used good china, or those special cardboard decorative plates you see even in the dollar stores), with special cups/glasses.  I wanted to make a memory for even a visitor – no matter how squeaky tight our budget was.  I’d find a way to make even an everyday glass or plate special somehow.

At the end of the Bible story, and the Q &A after it, take a moment to pray.  Let each child take a turn (we’d have them say, “and now it’s [the next guy’s] turn” instead of Amen – with Dad or Mom closing and doing the Amen part.

Finish with a song they like that is a good closer for the lesson.  I liked This Little Light of Mine when there was only one or two candles lit.  As your kids grow and get more involved in church activities, you can figure out what songs they know that work for the evening – or sometimes even some children’s worship CD’s have some great songs for you all to learn.

Now it’s the end, and one of the older children gets to snuff the candle.  I usually have that child picked out by how well they behaved and got things done to prepare for the occasion, or who’s turn it was – or even allowing a visitor the honor.  Once I had to relight the single candle and let a second child snuff it, because they’d both been good, lol.   We talk about the season and try to help them with their questions and how they handle all the glitz and blitz of the season.  As they get more friends who do things differently, the discussions can include why we do what we do, etc.

We would invite friends – adult or children, we didn’t discriminate – to join us from time to time.  Especially when it was the night that the fourth candle was lit.  By then I had Christmas cookies to serve, too, lol.  The final candle in the middle is called the Christ Candle, and it quite often didn’t get lit until Twelfth Night.  I have 8 parents, and we would spend Christmas Day with at least two different Grandparent homes, the first one being an hour’s drive away.  Christmas Eve was spent at yet a third set of Grandparent’s home, so we were too tired to light it on Christmas Day most of the time.  Twelfth Night was best, and it helped us have something to look forward to, after all the holiday hype was gone.

I was never enslaved to the Advent Wreath devotions.  There were weeks as the kids grew older where we were running to school events, church events or even trying to get our own shopping done.  There were weeks we missed lighting a candle (gasp!).  We’d always work on getting them caught up by the fourth week of Advent, though the “ceremony” might be a bit abbreviated.  The important part was that it was always there – where we could see it.  It helped us to remember when we intentionally made a simple time to reflect and adore the idea of God’s love being an infant in our midst.  How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given…

This year, I am smooshed into one room, and all the children are grown and flown.  We lost one just weeks ago, and that hurts, too.  But I remember those evenings when the candlelight was reflected in their little eyes – and I know that it was a blessing that is hard to explain to others when they look at me so doubtfully.

Once the first Advent was gone, we had better wreaths to use.  The kids were more eager to straighten up things and fought for the honor of bringing the wreath down from the piano.  They would plead for the right to be a candle snuffer, or read the Bible story.  The older kids would explain the wreath and the occasion to smaller or visiting kids – and my heart would beat with gladness – they were listening!  The bossy first borns learned that we didn’t have to have the same colors all the time, and the contentious kids could be taught that Advent wasn’t in the Bible, but we need it for our sinful ways that make us wander.  They get it, sooner than any argument can persuade after the first minute of a darkened clean home with candlelight on the wreath.

I have memories for my Advent Wreath this year.  They’ll do just fine.

Copyright © 2013 Churchmousie ~ all rights reserved.

My Godson and Nephew – Anthony Samuel Bravi

Lord, I want Tony back.

His favorite color was pink, and he enjoyed wearing it whenever he could find something he liked in that color.

His favorite color was pink, and he enjoyed wearing it whenever he could find something he liked in that color.

I wasn’t done loving him.  I didn’t get to know enough about him as an individual, to feel that I gave him enough love.  I wanted to give him room to express himself.  I waited for him to volunteer who he was, and what he was about, even if it meant that I didn’t get to see him as much as I wished.  I figured he would outlive me.  I didn’t think I had to insist on knowing anything before he was ready to bring it to me.  We all thought we had time enough to unfold the curious things about him.  There was no reason to think we didn’t.

He was good about letting us know that he loved us, at least I am certain that he loved me as much as I hoped he would.  He wanted me to know that, and so I did.  I never felt criticized or seen as unimportant in his eyes.  And his eyes – how dark, lustrous and lovely they were!  He had those long thick lashes, too.  His eyes usually had a calm twinkle when he was relaxed and a merry shine when he was laughing.  When times were hard or we were hurt, his eyes were steady, encouraging, and courageous; telling us we could endure whatever was causing the pain.  But this isn’t all about me.  I wanted to know more about him.

He seemed satisfied with his life in more ways that I knew.  It’s a question I now realize I wanted to ask: Tony, were you satisfied with life?  Did you achieve all the goals that mattered most to you?  When you were hurt, did you find comfort enough to heal well?  Did you know how much you mattered?  Did we tell you enough?

I got to be there when you were born!  You were our family’s first baby, so you taught us that newborns needed structure with your fretful cries, and that babies could show us the world in a shockingly remarkable way.  You were adorable and we called you Munchkin, because the Italian DNA fated you to be in a smaller “fun size” body rather than some football brute.  Through you, we learned that we could be good parents, aunts and uncles – and you probably taught the grandparents as well.  You brought us all of the benchmark firsts: the first award for creative writing in Kindergarten, the first t-ball games, the first haircut crisis (when you cut your sister’s hair for reasons we never could figure out – but they were good ones I am sure), and the list goes on.  I choke with all the memories that crowd my mind, because everything you did led the way for those who came later to our family, and some things were just distinctive to who you were.  Sometimes being the first caused wounds for you, because you needed the room to make mistakes and not have them be so significant.  Did you feel celebrated enough?  Were we giving you enough of the praise that you needed to hear?

As time went by, you wore the mantle of involuntary leadership with grace, civility, and kindness.  Like most firstborns, you liked rules.  But you wanted to create the rules, not just simply obey anyone else’s.  You proved that boys can be cheerleaders and still be expressively masculine.  And if straight girls could wear blue, why couldn’t straight boys wear pink and still be respected and enjoyed as a straight male with his full load of testosterone?   After all, we say that when things are good, “they are in the pink.”  Right?

Anger was rarely a part of your character, and that impressed me.  You had some things happen in life that would have made a lot of the people angry and bitter, but you resisted that.  You made more friends than enemies everywhere you quietly went.  You were human, and had some irritating traits, too; but they weren’t enough to make me sigh or roll my eyes when I heard your voice.  It was always joy that bounded in with you.  I also noticed along the way, that you decided you didn’t need to control much, other than yourself – a priceless lesson in living.  I remember telling you that, and how you were a bit tongue-tied in responding.  I am so glad that I got to tell you that, and that you heard me.

I know that you were good about letting other people know that you valued them.  You could tell them what it was that made them valuable when they needed to know it, too.  You didn’t always have eloquent words, but you were rarely inarticulate if someone was honestly listening.  You didn’t have to be the “star” of every occasion, but you knew how to fill the supporting role to all of your beloved’s lives.

I specifically remember a day in April of 2000 where you had to get leave from military duties in Kentucky so you could come back to Illinois and collect your mother, your sister and a brand new niece home from two different hospitals about 50 miles apart.  You did it effectively, with all tender patients carefully and preciously transported to the place of healing – home.

As a man, you were intelligent, honest, hardworking, a little stubborn, but still respectful of others, as well as a happy spirit of gladness for life and living it well.  You responded to requests for help with a happy good-natured attitude – a priceless trait in a time of struggle that generated the request.   You liked being the dragon slayer, and it showed in your happy glow as you would leave: Challenge overcome!  I know that I got to tell you that I enjoyed you as a problem solver in my life; but – did you believe I meant it, or did you just think I was “being a good aunt?”

Having grown up with mostly females in your life, you weren’t like most men.  You didn’t always run from women in tears or any wounded child, man, or other hurting creature.  You were a comforter in times of sorrow.   That’s a big part of the loss I feel today.   We’ve lost a comforter who filled that role as completely as any human could.  You were a kind man in a world of Al Bundys, a respecter of persons in a time that seems to challenge us with biting sarcasm and jaded criticism.  We’ve lost an endearing and enduring spirit that taught us how to keep going in the quieter ways.

His friend John took this picture, and it's become our favorite.  This is the man we knew most and best.

His friend John took this picture, and it’s become our favorite. This is the man we knew most and best.

You were so very remarkable, my beloved Godson.  Did we tell you that enough?  I want to think so, because as I think of you, I always remember seeing a spontaneous smile on your face and in your dark eyes when you’d greet me.  Selfishly, I want to demand you back to our circle.  However, it occurs to me that – God could have given you to any other family instead of ours.  That it is entirely possible that I would never have met you, or been influenced by your life in mine.  That’s a sobering thought, and I have to admit – I don’t like it one bit.

Lord, I want to thank You for giving us the gift of Anthony Samuel Bravi.  I am so glad I never had to live it without him.  Help me to manage this loss with the same measure of courage that he used in times like this.  Help me to honor and celebrate his life, and care for his beloveds the way he’d want me to, though today I am shattered because he is no longer shared with me.

Please pray for Tony’s wife, Shannon.  She’s been a precious woman of intelligence, wit, and wonder for our family to enfold.  There was no warning, and this is a crushing heartbreak for her.

Shannon and Tony 2013

Shannon and Tony 2013

I would ask for more prayers for his mother (my sister) Diana, and his sister Jelina.  Their close family circle has been broken.  This hurts beyond the meaning of the word.

Tony and Jelina - July 2013

Tony and Jelina – July 2013
The Bravi Circle July 2013

The Bravi Circle July 2013