Advent Post 2: The People Walking in Darkness

Last night, Thomas and I got all dressed up and went to a Christmas party my employer throws every year. We parked the car far down the sidewalk (lots of people come to this party) and I held his arm tightly because it was freezing and dark. He helped me dodge puddles in my little cloth shoes, and when I balked at walking across a pile of wet leaves, he lifted me over them and we came towards the warm light we could see through the big window—the Christmas tree was up and people were inside, milling around, dressed up, laughing. From cold darkness to warmly lit rooms, full of people looking great and glad to be there. It was a pretty clear juxtaposition—light and dark, cold and warmth, community and loneliness. So of course it got me thinking about winter and about Christmas, and about Advent, which is a time where I think about juxtapositions.

My college roommate used to live in Alaska, and she told me that it got…depressing. There are weeks and weeks of constant night, just darkness, sleeping and waking and going to school and coming home in darkness. Everybody waits for the day when they see the sun for just a minute. I once read an article describing schoolchildren in Alaska standing outside, singing “Mr. Sun, Mr. Golden Sun” at the top of their voices, ready to greet the dawn for the first time in weeks. It stuck with me.

When I lived in Massachusetts, the winter days were very short. I think the shortest day ends at like 3:30, when kids are still in school. I remember the feeling of “bleak midwinter”, and it’s a feeling of darkness and coldness, of layers of clothes that itch and fireplaces stacked with wood that sometimes lights in minutes and sometimes takes its time. Waiting for the fire makes the winter seem endless.

I remember coming home from school in my uniform and trying to light a fire in the big fireplace. There were rolls of newspaper, a basket of kindling, and stacks of thick logs that smelled like dirt. There was a science to it, and I always felt proud of myself in a way that I haven’t felt many times since—proud that I could fight the cold off, could keep the dark at bay with that long lighter and some balled-up Wall Street Journals (I also read them first. I was smart then, too.) I could so live in Salem in the 1690’s, I would tell myself; I could definitely do it.

At the moment, it’s cold in Texas—for perspective (and so the people in Massachusetts can have a good laugh), it was a high of about 40 today, and it’ll be a low of 31 tonight. Sure, cars and houses heat up (if you’re lucky), but there’s something about cold that seems to seek you out. It gets in through cracks in the door and pushes past insulation. Our bedroom is very drafty, and my nose is cold even while the rest of me is wrapped in flannel. 

And of course, with the cold comes the dark. Sure, it’s not as big a deal as Massachusetts, but our apartment is small, and the living room has only one window. Last month I bought a cute little hand-held lamp, intending to keep it in the dim living room. It gives a bright blue light that makes you look old, but is pretty efficient in the small space. And it came in handy this week, when the lights went out in our hall bathroom.

I realized the light had gone out, because it went out while I was in there trying to hang up wet clothes. The dryer is broken and we’re at the mercy of Sears to get a new one delivered. There are no windows in that bathroom, and it gets very hot in there with the heat on. That’s why the clothes dry in there, and the towels get all crackly. So it was a pretty complete darkness until I got the blue lamp on. I could suddenly see myself in the mirror, holding wet shirts and towels on hangers, the blue light making me look…not my best. I actually looked like the Marleys from The Muppet Christmas Carol. But I was grateful for the light. 

You can’t work in darkness. You can’t walk in darkness. You can’t figure out where you are or where everything else is. Once, in Luray Caverns when I was little, we were about a bazillion feet underground, and the tour guide turned off the lamps. We might as well have been swallowed. He told us that after a certain amount of time in that kind of extreme blackness, you would go blind. You wouldn’t even LOOK for light anymore, and if it showed up, you wouldn’t know it.

So today on the second Sunday of Advent, I’ve been thinking about that verse that says, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.” And of course, the light was Christ. 

One of my kids said the other day, in a dreamy voice, “I wish we could meet Mary.” I believe we will, and she can tell us what it was like to carry the light all that time. If she wants to…she may just want to hang out. I wonder if heaven will be like that Christmas party—Christians from all ages coming in out of the cold, shedding coats covered in the world, blinking in the light, and just…hanging out. Suddenly seeing everyone so differently.

Maybe that’s why on Christmas we all love to look at the lights. They may be tiny and some of them are kind of silly, but they keep the winter dark at bay. Whoever the dude (or teenage girl coming home from school) was that discovered fire must have realized how much the world would change from now on. Or maybe not—maybe he or she was freaked out. They probably got burned before they figured out how great and useful this was.

It’s Christmas—it’s a happy time. But the longer you think about Advent, the more dramatic you realize it is. Still, at the heart of it there’s the happiness, the knowledge that this is where the world changes—with the light that the teenage girl brought so long ago.

We are no longer at the mercy of the dark. We are no longer at the mercy of the dark. I just pray the light doesn’t burn me up—because of course it could, and sometimes it feels like it will. 

Thanks, team—:)

(Stay tuned for more on the dryer situation as I try and “fix something”, which is an item on the List…unfortunately, fixing the dryer is now beyond our powers.)

(Also, if you’re still Christmas shopping and could use some rebates and stuff, here are my referral codes and links once again…remember, new users with these apps get bonuses when they start using them, and if they were difficult to use, I wouldn’t bother with them.)

Ibotta:  https://ibotta.com/r/vvacbbd

Fetch Rewards: YK7AF

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Dear Andrew: Advent and the Thrill of Hope

The other day I was walking out of the store and I saw a magazine cover out of the corner of my eye. It was the Magnolia magazine, and there was an article titled “the thrill of hope”. I didn’t read the article or even stop to look at the magazine. But I went away with that line in my head.

That’s a line from a Christmas song, and we will start listening to Christmas music soon. Daddy says no Christmas music before Advent. Honestly, I didn’t think you were even aware of the approach of Christmas, until you spotted a sparkly garland hung in some store in the mall, and you informed daddy that it was ‘Christmas.’ I hope you start remembering Christmas this year and making fun memories…storing up experiences with grandparents and cousins, snow and sugar cookies and the giant tree you’re not allowed to touch. But I have to make sure you get the important part—the Jesus story. 

It’s a good thing you have a head for music. Christmas hymns are some of the best songs I know, and you can remember a song after hearing it just two or three times. The line “the thrill of hope” comes from a Christmas song that is very difficult to sing—at least for me. The range is too high. But it’s time for you to gather these songs like falling leaves to keep throughout your life. And someday they’ll make more sense to you.

I’m not sure what you know of “hope’—you know about expectations; you ask to go and see the pumpkins when I get you from daycare, every day. You know about getting excited—when you see that mommy is eating a cookie, for instance, and you come over like a puppy, eyes wide as plates, smiling in that cheeky way. You know to look forward to things, and you know to anticipate. And what’s worse, I think you know about hopes being crushed. And because you are at the age where you can’t be reasoned with and you can’t tell me why you’re upset, I think dashed hope are particularly painful. Why don’t you get a jellybean when the bag is clearly on the table? The fact that the bag is empty means nothing. Why didn’t Daddy come with us to the store when he always does? It hurts me to see it, but it’s part of being a human on this planet.

At the moment you’re watching a clip from Star Wars: A New Hope. You love the aesthetic—Stormtroopers and Rebel Fighters, droids and Jedi and an annoying young Luke Skywalker. The lovely Princess Leia—the only princess you know anything about, which is fine with me—tells your favorite hood-wearer, Obi-Wan Kenobi, that he is her only hope. She is desperate for help and she is turning to someone she doesn’t even know, who might not even be alive, to save herself and her comrades from the Empire’s forces. She puts that message into R2D2’s memory, and then she gets arrested by Stormtroopers minutes later. She then has to be tortured, insulted, and watch her planet explode in front of her (you don’t watch those clips, but you’ll have seen them by the time you read this), before Han and Luke appear. And they’re not exactly what she was hoping for—an obnoxious farm boy and a sneering smuggler (and Chewbacca. We love Chewbacca.) But they rescue her. The hope she put in Obi-Wan wasn’t wasted. But it was a long road for her.

When I saw the magazine emblazoned with “the thrill of hope”, I was carrying bags of groceries to the car. My distracted mind ran through the images the words brought up—people singing Christmas hymns, trees decked out with fancy ornaments, quiet church services lit by candles, cold drives around the neighborhood to look at gaudy lights. Then I actually thought about the words ‘the thrill of hope’. And I thought of the most thrilling day of my life.

It was the day I was setting up my classroom and got a call from the doctor’s office—I expected they would tell me I needed to get a prescription. But they told me that there had been ‘a tiny little positive line on the pregnancy test’. Good thing I was sitting down.

I raced out of the room, no idea where I was going, up the stairs, then down again, then into the parking lot. 

There would be days of waiting and crying and tests before they confirmed my wild hope—that I would, indeed, have a child. And the road between that tiny little line and the first time I saw your face would be even longer, fraught with worry and filled with more and more hopes that hurt sometimes. But that was the best phone call I ever got. I hope you have kids someday and can know what I’m talking about. 

Someday you’ll know what I know—that you’re a sinner. And it will crush you in little ways: consequences for mistakes you didn’t think were that big a deal, the ramifications of selfishness, a hurt look on a friend’s face, a disappointed word from a teacher you adore. Maybe, like other kids raised in Christian homes, you’ll say the prayer and get baptized before the full reality of your sinfulness hits you (it happened to me, but that’s a story for another day). And then, when you bow your head perfunctorily and say the prayers we’ve taught you and recall the words to hymns and psalms, maybe you’ll know the hope all the saints have known. It’s the hope that it was all true, and true not just for some hypothetical person, but for you and your very specific sins. 

I wonder if Zechariah felt the thrill of hope—I know his wife Elizabeth did. I wonder if Mary did, or if she was more worried about what her fiancée would say. I wonder if when she saw Joseph’s face after his dream, she suddenly had the thrilling hope that she wouldn’t have to do this Virgin Birth thing on her own. That Joseph would be her kindred spirit after all, through this weird and universe-changing adventure.

Jesus brought hope to so many people in His life—the woman at the well, the blind and the sick and the terribly ashamed. I really do pray that you find hope in Him too. I don’t know what it will look like when you do, but I pray for it all the time.

And every now and then I get a flash of hope for your salvation, your understanding of the gospel. When you sing Jesus Loves Me and say your little prayers at night, when you point to a painting and say “Jesus?”, when you choose to NOT throw a tantrum even though I was expecting one…I thank God. 

Happy first Sunday of Advent,

Mom. 

Saving Money, Christmas Presents, and Rebates…fear not, I’m here to save you broke people.

So yeah, I spent all my money Black Friday shopping. But that’s fine, because I have gift cards from various money-saving and rebate apps to get me through the next few days.

This year, in a quest to save a bunch of money (something on The List), I signed up for a bunch of apps. And they’re pretty helpful, so I thought I’d do you guys the favor of giving you the referral codes. And I get points if I refer people…so it’s a mutual money-saving thing.

1. Fetch Rewards

This app is good because you just scan the receipt after buying things—and you get points for buying from specific brands. Things like Kraft and Suave and Campbell’s. I confess it wouldn’t have meant anything to me, since I’m a store brands kind of person, but I got a bunch of points for buying Plum Organics food pouches for Andrew. So if you want to use my referral code, we both get extra points.

My caveat is that it took a while to get enough points for a gift card. Like all money-saving apps, you can’t let it rule your shopping habits. But it’s pretty user-friendly.

Fetch Referral Code: YK7AF

I should add that you get 25 points per receipt even if there’s nothing on there worth anything. So that’s something. It adds up eventually.

2. Ibotta

I’d heard about this one for a long time, and it turned out to be worth it. Every week or so, they have new products that you can get rebates from—it’s not much, like I got $1.00 from a half-gallon of Lactaid milk at Walmart, but in the end that made the Lactaid like 5 cents cheaper than WalMart brand Lactose-free milk. With bonuses and stuff, I ended up getting $20.00 (the minimum cash out amount) pretty quickly.

Ibotta Referral Code: vvacbbd

Often, they’ll give you ten cents in rebates just for scanning ANY receipt, so that helps.

3. Shopkick

This is an app I have on my phone that gets you “kicks” or points for walking into stores, scanning products, and purchasing specific things.

This one takes some time—scanning is easy, and walking in is easier, but when you redeem the points for gift cards, it’s only a little bit of cash for a lot of time. 500 kicks will get you a $2 gift card at Target or WalMart.

I confess, this one is fun because I like the “dingdingDING” sound it makes when I scan something and get 25 kicks. And if you earn enough kicks, I think you can redeem them for KitchenAid mixers or a Vespa! The Vespa is like a million kicks, but a girl can dream.

I use this one faithfully, and I average about $4 a week if I were to redeem for gift cards that often.

Yesterday, Shopkick gave like 50 walk-in kicks at WalMart and Target, 150 at Carter’s and Marshall’s, and 500 for buying LEGO sets (which everybody wants at Christmas. Except Thomas. He says this year he’d rather have Amazon cards for all his grad school books. No more middle school LEGO sets for this 30-year-old man. It’s a somber Christmas.)

I don’t have the referral code for this one because my phone is on the other side of the room and…it’s vacation. Maybe say a prayer for me instead? Like I said, I spent all my money, Andrew’s new coat (a Black Friday find purchased with the help of Shopkick) is big enough for a kindergartener, and Thomas is too old for LEGOS. It’s an emotionally trying holiday for us all.

 

Anyway, you’re welcome, broke members of the Blob (the blog mob). 🙂

To All The Cooks and Moms this Thanksgiving…to make you feel better. You’re welcome.

I can’t even say how much I admire all you grownup adults who have cooked Thanksgiving dinners. Whether you’re a mom who got up early to do whatever you do to a turkey, a grandma who painstakingly prepared a dressing (or stuffing) from an old recipe, or a college student who mysteriously knows how to turn out perfect pies and cakes, happy Thanksgiving, and happy Black Friday. I figured I’d write something for you to read while everyone else is watching the Sports Event, or Gone With the Wind on Sundance. Or maybe you’re already camped out in line for the Bass Pro Shop Gift Card Giveaway, or sitting in an airport on one of the busiest travel days of the year. Anyway, this one’s for you…

For Thanksgiving, my extended family always congregates at my parents’ house. A smoked turkey always sort of appears, my mom and aunts make dressing (stuffing—whatever), my dad concocts a brilliant dessert, and I make a less-than-brilliant gluten-free one. This year, I decided to make a flan (Mexican custard with delicious molten sugar topping), and a gluten-free chocolate pie with whipped cream, pomegranate sauce, fresh fruit, and whipped coconut cream for those in my family with food allergies. 

My mother warned me not to try and make too many things. But I ignored her. I’m a grownup adult, I thought—I’m gonna make desserts, they’re gonna taste great, and they’re gonna look great online. Then I actually got started.

First, an old standby—flan. 

To make flan, you need six eggs, a can of evaporated milk, and a can of condensed milk. All these things go in a blender, then the custard mix goes in a pan coated with liquid sugar. I’d braved the baking aisle, crawling under carts to get to the evaporated milk, and I knew I had everything. I assembled the ingredients, ready to caramelize the sugar and not get ANOTHER scar (long story…no, not that long. I burned my hand really bad making the flan topping when I was in high school and still have the scar. The end.) But I realized, as I prepared to blend the custard together, that I was missing something…a blender.

My food processor is too little. And I just don’t have the patience to sit there and blend things by hand. Plus, what if it came out wrong? With much moaning and groaning, I decided to skip the flan.

Thomas, always one to say stuff people already know, reminded me that my mom had warned me about trying to make too many things. I scoffed. So I didn’t have a blender. I had other stuff I could make…I was a grownup adult, after all. I had a blog and access to Pinterest. I could make another dessert—and people would be proud.

I had a recipe I’d been dying to try—Blackberry Gingerbread Waffles. Sounds good, right? Ginger, molasses, blackberries…like autumn in a batter. I figured I’d make the batter, but instead of turning it into waffles, I’d make muffins. Add some icing, done. How does Lindsay do it, my family would ask? How does she get Andrew into clothes, get herself showered, and make TWO desserts, all while working part-time?? She’s a miracle. A wonder of God’s own creation. 

Right. 

Anyway, I’m convinced they knew they were supposed to be waffles, not muffins. They were baked, but they cracked and sweated and generally looked up at me with indifference. Never mind. This wouldn’t happen. 

“Just make the pie, that’s enough,” Thomas told me wearily. But I refused. I was determined to salvage the idea of two desserts. He sighed and continued watching Wallace and Gromit with Andrew.

I wasn’t going to be defeated. Toffee! That’s what I would make! I’d done it a million times in my life—or at least twelve. I’d make some toffee covered in chocolate, everyone would eat it, and life would continue to be social-media-worthy. I dumped all our butter, half our sugar, and a pinch of salt into the boiler and began the long process of “constantly stirring until the toffee becomes amber-colored”, or whatever.

I stirred with a white plastic spoon, staring down at the yellow-white mixture, listening to the butter sizzle in the pot. The parchment paper was lining a cookie sheet, ready for the toffee that would be perfectly toffee-colored and covered in chocolate. 

About halfway through the long process, I realized I was having to stir harder than I had been. No giving up, you dork, I told myself. Then I lifted the spoon out and realized that it had melted. Yep…the entire spoon part had been consumed within the fires of Mount Doom, and all I had was the handle part. Like Gollum, I felt really stupid and realized I’d wasted a lot of time. But like Frodo, I had to face the rest of the movie (I didn’t finish the book, so…all you LOTR nerds, keep it to yourselves).

Dejected and mortified, I threw out the entire pot of gross plastic-toffee, gathered up all the rest of the sugar, and ordered a now-tired-of-this Thomas into the kitchen. “Read the recipe for chocolate pudding from scratch!”, I demanded. “Mix butter into the graham-cracker crumbs!” (For the crust). “I want this pie out of my life!” He was all too happy to have that happen.

I beat the sugar, egg, and flour with a fork, singing sea shanties to keep my motivation up, until I realized halfway in that I’d promised the pudding pie would be gluten-free—the bowl of custard was tossed into the fridge, then tossed into the trash when I realized that a sleepy me might mistake it for oatmeal in the middle of the night.

 By this point, the sink was piled high with dirty dishes, none of my tablespoons were clean, and with the help of an online conversion chart, I was ladling a thousand teaspoons worth of cocoa powder, almond flour, and sugar into the last clean bowl we had, praying I hadn’t lost count. An hour later, the pudding was made and cooling in the crust. The pie was done, and I was off to bed.

All night, visions of flan and the ghosts of muffins chased me through stress dreams. When I woke up, I drank a bunch of coffee and began the last part of the dessert—the toppings. Whipped coconut cream that wouldn’t whip (so a bunch of vaguely coconut-themed shaving cream), fruit that didn’t make it out of the house, and a pomegranate sauce that…actually turned out ok. 

We brought Andrew and the surviving desserts over to my parents’ house, where my father was sauntering around in the same shirt he’d worn for two days, taking impeccable apple frangipane tarts out of the oven and carving turkey with a chill attitude that just ticked me off. I also informed my aunt that never mind, I would NOT be Black Friday shopping with anyone because a series of disasters had rendered me exhausted. 

But hey, my mom ate the pie with pomegranate sauce and she said it was really good. And that’s all that matters.

So anyway, to those of you celebrating by snoozing in front of a sporting event or awkwardly sitting on couches wondering if you’re the only one watching, as well as to those already waiting to storm the gates of Target at midnight, Happy Thanksgiving. 

If you want to make pomegranate sauce, just get some of that POM Wonderful juice, throw in a dash of sugar, and heat it until it’s sticky. 

Thanks, Team 🙂

(This post is dedicated to the memory of…

Flan

Toffee

The White Plastic Spoon

Blackberry Gingerbread Muffins

…lest we forget)

Dear Andrew—Stars

 Dear Andrew,

Two weeks ago, before daylight savings time ended, we began to get up for school while it was still deep night. We walked around the apartment, incandescent lamps lighting the way, unnaturally awake during what felt like midnight. Daddy would carry you downstairs to the car, like he always does, and I would turn the car on to warm it up, watching the headlights cut lines in the dense dark.

I saw you two stand there under bright starlight and silvery moonlight, daddy holding you close and pointing to the sky. You were saying, “stars and moon?” like you always do. But according to daddy, it went more like this…

“Look, Drew! There’s Earendil, sailing in his ship with the Silmaril upon his brow! Can you say “Silmaril?”

“Silmaril…” 

And thus you shared a nerdy, Lord of the Rings-y moment that daddy could post about online. 

I don’t really get all that Tolkien stuff; Daddy is a much more committed reader of fantasy than I am, and he’s determined to make you into a nerd. 

(it’s working, too—the other day you recited an entire Darth Vader speech from A New Hope, and had us both in stitches.)

Not to be outdone, I reminded Daddy that if he was referring to the Morning Star, and therefore Venus, that its name in Old Solar is Perelandra (according to CS Lewis). 

I want you to read The Space Trilogy as soon as you’re old enough to understand it. Daddy wants you to read Tolkien. And we want you to spend time looking at the stars—the glowy ones stuck to your bedroom wall and the ones that prick the sky—and wonder.

Daddy and I are weirdos in a lot of ways. We used to spend hours staring out into the woods, talking about all the strange critters we thought might be out there…Bigfoot and fairies and creepy monsters that we don’t know about because we don’t need to know. We have theories about the Chupacabra and Mothman, about the Loch Ness Monster and the Boggy Creek Monster. 

We don’t necessarily believe in that stuff. Certainly not the way we believe in God or even the way we believed in Santa Clause. More like…we’re fine with the idea of them because we have always been wonderers. We wonder about the world…we entertain fantastic ideas. We like to tell myths and legends. And we love to read you stories, because we want you to join us there.

I see the capacity for wonder in you, and the ability to make believe and pretend. You turned your hobby horse upside down and told your aunt you were ‘cleaning’, pretending he was a mop. You love your stuffed animals so much, they become more than toys. And your adventures! They turn everyday things into once-in-a-lifetime experiences . Like the time you got to pet a lizard at Petco, the afternoon you spent jumping on the bouncy castle, the tour guide that let you ‘drive’ the bus, the garden full of pumpkins….all these things give you that look, that excited look, and you turn back to me and Daddy as if to ask if we are seeing this too. The connection between stories and characters that you love and real life events…it gives me hope that you will have an imagination, that your inner life will be as rich as the life growing around you.

But that’s not why I think warmly of that cold morning —you and Daddy stargazing at 7 am, pointing out Venus/Perelandra/whatever LOTR thing. It’s because I suddenly remembered something that happened to me.

I guess I was about your age, because aunt Ginni was still a baby. We were on our way to school, packing up the car, and it was morning, but still so dark. Was it cold? I don’t remember.

I remember that my Dad was holding me—Pop Pop, back when he was younger and less gray, bearded like Daddy. He was pointing to the sky, to all the pinpoints of light in the big Texas firmament. “And that’s the morning star,” he said.

I remember I started singing a song I’d heard on the radio…I think it’s a Michael W. Smith song. It’s about the second coming, and some of the lyrics are, “I am sure there will be a day/but it will not be like the nations say….joy will rise/like the Morning Star.” 

Like you, I had a great ear for song lyrics (it freaked my mom out when she realized I knew all the verses to ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ at two), and those words connected with that picture—of my father pointing to the sky, so dark when it should be daytime, pierced by a single faraway star with a name.

And my thoughts when I connect those two pictures are not really about universality—although it’s pretty cool when you think about two children, a generation apart, being told by bookish fathers to look up at the sky…when you think about all those generations of children inspired to look at the stars, to call them by different names and invent legends about their creation and fall and meaning…a curiosity that became faith in something higher…no, my thought is this—

Is this the moment when your memories begin? If I remember that moment with my father, and I couldn’t have been much older than you, does that mean that you’ll remember everything from here on out? Because for the last two and a half years, we’ve operated on the assumption that you WON’T. We figured that all our fun experiences were great for your development, but were mostly for OUR benefit. When we took you to the zoo, we didn’t think you’d ever recall your meeting with a monkey. But maybe now you will. That scares me, because I’m not perfect and I don’t want you to remember the times I was impatient (although it’s inevitable), but it’s also exciting. Will you remember last week, when we were stuck in traffic, singing hymns and songs by The Cars to pass the time? Or how I pulled the colored pencil out of your mouth a few hours ago? It’s all fair game to add to your wonderings.

And the stakes are higher if these days are going to stay with you…memories following you into manhood. 

Someday, maybe you and your son or daughter can look up at the sky and talk about the stars and whatever fantasy you attach to them. Although, it’s possible that Daylight Savings Time will be in the past by then…it IS kind of a hassle.

Anyway, I leave you with these words:

hearts will fly when the new world starts

and joy will rise like the morning star

God will meet every cry of the heart…

and it’s my prayer

I want you to be there.

It’s true. But if you ever listen to the song, focus on the words. The music is…dated.

I love you,

Mom

31…Progress?

My birthday is next week!

The underwhelming age of 31…it’s like, why bother with recognizing it? But my mom says we’re still having a party and my brother is making me orange chicken (it’s awesome, I don’t know what he puts in it…besides oranges…or maybe there aren’t any oranges, I don’t know…) and so I figured, why not update everyone on my progress becoming an even more grown-up adult?

It’s Saturday night, and you’re reading this with Netflix on and a cup of cocoa in your hand (I hope, cuz it’s Texas cold here, which means it’s like 40 and I’m wearing shorts in a drafty living room), so let’s share a bedtime story about goals! Just kidding. I don’t have much to celebrate as far as goals, but let’s move right along.

1. Write something for people to read.

I’m sorry to say that readership is somewhat down the last few weeks. I get it, reading about couponing is boring, and the picture for Lord, Give Us Sweaters looks like the sweater is now in charge, and I get it if that freaked you out a little. Honestly, I can only write about my own life, because I have an agreement with myself that I won’t sue myself for libel, so when I’m boring, the blog gets bored. Sorry about that.

But thank you to all my faithful readers—y’all are so kind and encouraging, and if any of this is making you feel better about your un-set goals or unachieved goals or lack of couponing skills or love of gray sweaters, I’m glad.

I don’t necessarily want to be a lifestyle expert, but…how do you know once you are one? Does somebody just…tell you that you are? Or do you have to come to that conclusion yourself? Is there a form you fill out? Do you have to register as a lifestyle guru? Are we all lifestyle experts, or do we just like to talk about ourselves? Anyway, moving on…

2. Save a substantial amount of money.

Couponing is fun, and I’m saving money, but it takes hours. Seriously, all the websites and the printing and clipping and scanning receipts…

Also, if you know me in real life and you don’t have the Shopkick App, text me in real life and I’ll tell you about it. It’s saved a lot of money. They’re not paying me to say this, but it’s true.

3. Get stains out of the rug.

Pass. Although I did get this one stain out of the couch, but I won’t tell you how. It doesn’t matter.

4. Speak Spanish passably well.

I’ve kinda let this one slide, to be honest, although I’ve stopped to read roadsigns and billboards in Spanish and I could always tell what they were saying.

5. Bake things that start out as dough.

It’s almost Christmas cookie season, so this one is more urgent, but I haven’t done it.

The last thing I baked was this great cinnamon crumb cake, but then I had a virus and Thomas decided that there was something in it that made him sick, since he’d eaten the rest of the cake by himself. Seems legit.

6. Cook a steak.

Nope.

7. Get through a long, boring, classic book so I understand cultural references.

I read The Picture of Dorian Gray—it was shorter than I expected. I finished it in like two afternoons. I’ll be honest, the ending did catch me by surprise. Which is a little embarrassing.

I just re-read A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis. It’s rough, but so good and smart and understanding.

I also read God in the Dock and The Problem of Pain, both of which I’d recommend highly. Lewis was a genius the way I’d like to be a genius—someone who can go straight to the heart of any question and answer it without fear and without affectation.

8. Sit through a long, famous, classic movie so I understand references and jokes.

On Halloween I watched The Nightmare Before Christmas, and I’ll confess that I didn’t really get it. I just don’t get Tim Burton.

(Great, now he’s going to read this and make a movie about me, only I’m going to be some kind of spider person and everything will be black and white and stop-motion and Helena Bonham-Carter will play everyone. Sigh. I guess that’s part of being a lifestyle expert, you get criticized a lot and you have to be ok with people making…stop motion movies about you…where was this going?)

9. Learn how football works.

Nope.

10. Learn how finance works. Like, even a LITTLE.

I’ve learned that just because you get a dollar rebate back on something doesn’t mean you should buy it. Is that finance?

11. Expand my food horizons.

Shopkick has given me points every time I’ve bought Imagine broth, so I’m gonna keep buying it and making soup. It’s really good, but I don’t think that’s expanding my horizons.

12. Learn to apply eyeliner.

Working on it.

13. Travel. Internationally. Without freaking out.

It’s almost time for our annual holiday trip up north, so we’ll see if Texas has seceded by the time we come home. There’s always that chance.

14. Learn how to use a compass. Just in case.

No. I have not. I have not learned to use a compass just in case.

But I haven’t gotten lost anywhere in a while, so…

15. Drive on the highway. Without freaking out.

Done and done. A couple of times, anyway. I was proud of myself.

16. …really, learn ANYTHING about cars.

I’ve learned that my love for my car, Josh, may be holding me back from getting a new one. This is why you shouldn’t name cars and imagine them having voices.

17. Learn how the U.S. government works.

The midterm elections taught me that the U.S. government gets really upset about certain things every couple of years, and then those things magically fix themselves. So that’s good.

I think I’m partially quoting someone here but I don’t recall…

18. Keep a plant alive. Preferably an edible one.

I bought day-old bread from the bargain cart at Wal-Mart for 71 cents and 24 hours later it had become a 4th grade science experiment. Does that count?

19. Fix minor problems with clothes (so…sewing, I guess).

I sewed a hole up in my favorite jeans! Yay me!

However, I may need to replace my favorite panda slippers (they’re slippers with panda faces on them, they’re not MADE of pandas, I don’t think), because cleaning them with a magic eraser is no longer working.

20. Fix ANY broken thing…just fix something.

The string fell out of the tennis ball at one of my stations in school, but I fixed it.

If you don’t know me in real life and have never seen the motor lab, this doesn’t make sense, but I was proud of myself. If I hadn’t fixed it, the entire second half of the day would have been messed up. I used a pencil, in case you’re wondering how I did it. I’m just glad it worked.

 

Anyways, another heartfelt thank you to all my friends and readers who take the time to click on these links. I promise I think about you every time I write this, and when you mention that you’ve read the blog, it makes me smile, inside and out. Is that corny? I don’t care. Thanks for being so nice and understanding and encouraging through these last few months of ramblings. And thanks in advance for promoting me to the ranks of Lifestyle Expert. I can’t wait to have my picture taken in front of a roaring fire while holding a coffee cup.

thanks, team 🙂

Lord, give us sweaters—and other adventures with my own pettiness

I watch a lot of tv. And like many of you (be honest—basically all of you), I watched Downton Abbey. For both of you who HAVEN’T seen at least one season of this cultural phenomenon, here’s the story—

Yorkshire, 1912. Lord Grantham and his American wife Cora have three daughters who are about to come of age—Mary, a stuck-up brat; Edith, the forgettable one with a brain in her head; and Sybil, beautiful and idealistic and politically active. Like other members of the old-school gentry, the family lives a seemingly charmed life full of servants to wait on them literally hand and foot, lavish dinner parties, and nothing to do but dress up in Edwardian outfits. Mary the Bratty One is engaged to her second cousin who, because of something called an “entail”, will inherit her father’s title and princely estate, Downton Abbey. Unfortunately, her fiancée dies on the Titanic, and now there’s a new heir, the title-less and sort of handsome Matthew, a normal person who (spoiler alert) will eventually marry Lady Mary. 

But of course it isn’t that simple—we’re treated to 45-minute segments full of swelling musical cues, evil footmen plotting for their advancement in the ranks, butlers and housekeepers fussing over the dinner bell and the propriety of letting housemaids serve at the table (gasp!), and Dame Maggie Smith’s hilariously mean commentary on people who don’t do what they’re supposed to do. The world of Downton Abbey is governed by a complicated code of behavior that we’re made to believe has been around forever, but might be (and by season 2 definitely is) changing. Post World War I England means the estate has less money to throw around, and fewer single young men who are cute enough to be footmen, and a disillusioned population who doesn’t care as much about who should walk into dinner with whom as they did in season 1. It may be time to downsize at Downton.

And at the beginning of season 3 (as we prepare for Matthew and Mary’s wedding, shortly after the death of his fiancée Lavinia from Spanish Flu…You should just watch it), the family is confronted with the possibility that they may have to SELL DOWNTON ABBEY! And everybody freaks out. Life without those beautiful potted ferns, those giant staircases, the huge lawn with the swaying trees…whatever shall we do? The house they plan to move into is also the size of the Richland Mall, but it just isn’t Downton Abbey. Luckily, it all gets put right…which is good, because they need to hear some good news when Edith is jilted at the altar by Sir Antony. Ugh, stupid Sir Antony…and after Mrs. Patmore went to all that trouble over the wedding dinner. 

I know, I know…soap operas, right? Period pieces are fun, and I’ve always loved Jane Austen movies and Father Brown mysteries and old-fashioned things. It’s like walking through the halls of another life, where I wonder if I could cut it as a maid or a cook or a housekeeper…or if I would be as obnoxious as Mary if I had as much money as she does. And the sentiment they all express sounds so quaint and storybookish— “Times are changing! Perhaps we don’t NEED all the fuss and extravagance…there are more important things in life…” And as I sit there in my apartment, watching tv with a toddler who I didn’t bother to dress in more than shorts, I agree—yeah, y’all really don’t need all this. Sell the house, drive your own car, microwave some instant oatmeal, get a job, and quit going on and on about how people who aren’t as fancy as you are somehow inferior. So you’ll have to give a few things up! It’s not like you’ll die.

But in a weird way, I get it. I hate to lose the little things. I’m not good at giving things up. And maybe the reason I watch it is because I love the idea of having unlimited resources. I think about it a lot…and I fantasize about what I would do if I were disgustingly rich. Maybe I think about that TOO much. Not that I want expensive stuff, but…it’s still greed if you constantly want MORE simple things. Screwtape would agree.

I realized the extent of my sad materialism when I destroyed all my gray sweaters in the wash. I could never cut it as a lady’s maid at Downton Abbey…they’re in charge of keeping Her Ladyship’s clothes nice, and I couldn’t even keep red and gray stuff separate. And I couldn’t seem to get the pink stains out of my gray cardigans. 

This may seem like no big deal, except that I wear mostly gray and black. I’m like a monochrome wonder. And I had come to rely on those sweaters more than I should—they were in weekly rotation among my boring pants and not-that-sophisticated shirts. And now they were blotchy and pink and unwearable in public. They looked like they had rashes.

So I’ve been on the hunt for more sweaters since then. Unfortunately, this is not simple. And like Carson the Butler, I found myself obsessed with stuff that might be kind of petty.

  A sweater is not just a shirt that’s softer and made to be worn half open…it’s a whole statement of a personality. Wear it buttoned almost all the way up with a collared shirt underneath, and you’re telling the world how professional you are. Wear it unbuttoned and the sweater will flap in the breeze, announcing to the world how busy you are. Wear a flowy, draping sweater without buttons, and you’re announcing that you have everything so under control, you don’t even need buttons. Wear it buttoned all the way up, and you’re Napoleon Dynamite’s brother. Wear it buttoned all the way up AND wear cool pants, and you’re one of those influential Instagram personalities. You see what I’m saying? You don’t just BUY a sweater any more than the family from Downton Abbey just THROWS a party. There are many things that have to be taken into account.

Yeah, I know how silly and petty this sounds, and it gets worse. 

I spent literally HOURS on clothing sites looking for the perfect sweater. When I ruined my treasured trio of gray cardigans in the crimson- pocolypse of 2018, a new gray sweater became my chief motivation to continue couponing. I may or may not have eaten oatmeal for lunch for a week as a cost-saving measure to keep the sweater fund going. 

And then one night my iPad ran out of charge while I was scrolling past pictures of sweaters, and I was staring at a black screen, surrounded by the silence of the late night hours. I realized how many chores I’d left undone that evening so I could …what? Look at pictures of gray sweaters? It was funny…but not as funny as it was sad.

What was I supposed to wear? Nothing looked right. The colors were too bright, or too young. And everything felt uncomfortable. Was I supposed to wear a jacket made of rayon? No, this would not stand. It had to be fixed, at once. Or I would be walking around looking like NOT ME.

I had to accept that a GRAY SWEATER—A nondescript afterthought of the fashion world—had come to symbolize the way I thought of myself. If I wasn’t gray-sweater-Lindsay, who was I? 

I’m sure everyone has their secret sweater…you know, the little thing you don’t want to give up? No? Just me? Yeah right. It CAN’T just be me.

I imagine doing grand deeds and making heroic sacrifices. I wonder if God will require me to give up everything and follow him. And all the while I have this nagging thought…if he asked me for that one little, insignificant thing that nevertheless means a LOT to me—that represents comfort and security and ease—would I give it up? Not everything, but just one thing. Because God took my sweaters, and I somehow couldn’t function.

I’m impoverished. My thinking is wrong and my spirit is stupid. My home remained unvacuumed, night after night, while I chased a sweater through cyberspace. It occupied my thoughts more than it should have. Maybe I did that on purpose? Maybe it was easier to chase a sweater than to pray? There are real problems in the world, both far from me and near. I guess it was more fun to think about a sweater—and about myself—than to spend the limited hours I’m given doing something meaningful.

The thing about shows like Downton Abbey is that there is a certain amount of dramatic irony. We all know that the family cannot continue in their present way of life. We don’t see what happens to Downton during the Depression or World War II. Technology will make lots of the staff obsolete. Unless they want to become the setting for the great British Bake Off, they’ll need to adapt to the modern world. The demand for the perfect valet, ladies’ maid, and scullery maid  (sorry, assistant cook), will dry up in the later decades. (Or maybe it won’t, I don’t know their life.) But they all better learn to adapt to having less, and I probably should too.

Last year I read the book of Jonah with a bunch of kids. They were surprised at the way the book ends—on kind of an anticlimactic note. Jonah has just preached destruction to an entire city, and everyone responds with breathtaking speed and intensity—the entire population begs God’s forgiveness, in literal sackcloth and ashes. But Jonah, waiting on a cliff to watch the mushroom cloud, decides to throw a tantrum because his shade plant died. God asks him, “seriously?” (Not in those words, but that’s the spirit of it.) 

There are more important things on earth than the things I just CAN’T DEAL WITH LOSING.

It’s pathetic and embarrassing to admit how I feel about sweaters—but Jonah makes me feel better. Not because he was such a jerk about Nineveh, but because God clearly had enough mercy to go around. And enough patience to deal with the repentance of a whole city and the character flaw of one guy. 

One of these days, I will shuffle of this mortal coil, and all my sweaters will remain here without me. Whatever sweaters mean to me, whether it’s identity, or just the promise of comfortable clothes, I can’t take it with me to heaven. And comfort is a dangerous thing to chase.

 

thanks, team 😉

The Terrifyingly Terrifying Blog Of Terror

Because it’s the end of October and everybody’s lawn is covered in creepy stuff, I thought it high time I discussed scary things. So here is a list of my fears, from smallest to greatest.

  1. Turbulence on airplanes. Scary, sure, but I’ve flown enough for it not to worry me TOO much. I’m trying to train Drew not to be scared when it happens—as the plane starts to shake I lean over and say, “Righteous! Righteous!” You know, like the surfer turtle in Finding Nemo. Last time, he did it too. It was cute.
  2. Spiders. One time, I was alone in my classroom and there was a giant spider in the corner. I poked him with a broom, thinking he was a dust bunny. He was NOT. So I stood there, frozen in horror, until I realized I would have to vanquish him. I picked up a literature book (it was an extra, don’t worry), and held it aloft…I think I said, “For Narnia and for Aslan!” Then I dropped it on him, winning that battle and keeping my self respect. In my defense, he was the size of a nickel.
  3. Horror movies. I’ve watched a few, hoping they would make me braver, but I mostly ended up turning off the sound and hiding my eyes and at that point, does it really count as watching? And I still got nightmares. Sorry, I’m impressionable. And while we’re talking about scary movies…
  4. All the villains from Don Bluth movies (the cats from Fievel, the evil mouse from NIMH, the owls from Rockadoodle…I don’t know what it is about his animation style but his villains are no joke—they all have long nails and scary teeth.)
  5. Looking stupid in public (this is low on the list because I don’t often notice or understand what people think of me—I’m sort of lost in my thoughts a lot…it’s possible I’m just always looking stupid, that I maintain a constant level of stupid without knowing it, and I’ve become acclimated to it…)
  6. Food poisoning. I’m not sure if I’ve ever had it…
  7. Any kind of illness that makes me miss work (when you’re a teacher, missing work is a giant hassle).
  8. That people are talking about me behind my back (I know they probably are from time to time…I’m super interesting. Just kidding. But it bothers me more than I let on.)
  9. Running out of money. 
  10. Anything bad happening to Andrew.
  11. Anything bad happening to Andrew that I can’t fix.
  12. Losing someone I love. 
  13. Dying. Dying too fast to say goodbye. Dying slowly and painfully. Dying because I did something stupid, so that it was my own fault.
  14. Losing my faith—finding out, somehow, that everything I believed in was false. This one is so dark, I can hardly even look at it. How would it happen? I’m not sure—because faith involves believing in things you can’t prove by observation, how could you prove the claims of your faith were false? According to CS Lewis, people just sort of “fall away”, and I came close once or twice. My father told me, “Linds, there’s no religion…there’s one Jesus and you either follow him or you don’t.” Although I was less sure of God’s existence at that point than I had ever been, I chose to believe my Dad, and then to believe God. And I think that was bravery. It didn’t feel good—it usually doesn’t. 

I’ve seen people face and walk alongside and shrink from and conquer these fears…it makes me braver. 

I know I write about my fears all the time—this blog wasn’t meant to be a treatise on Lindsay’s Terrifying World of Anxieties, but here we are. And it’s the end of October, so it’s on my mind…

Halloween is a night where people celebrate things that give them fear. I’m sort of ambivalent about Halloween, although I love autumn and costumes and candies—but I can’t do fear for fun, except on roller coasters (and only the ones at Disney World, none of that upside-down stuff). I don’t want to play around with it, I want to be able to fight it when it shows its face. And when there’s nothing real to fear, I don’t want to invent things—my own brain and its lack of chemicals will do that for me, thanks. 

We won’t be doing anything for the holiday this year—all the parties happen after Andrew’s bedtime, so I haven’t bothered to get a costume together for him. Still, happy Trunk or Treat/Harvest Party/Annual Viewing of the Great Pumpkin/All Saints’ to us all! 

Seek Shelter

So yesterday I had to hide from a tornado—that was fun.

I was off doing a round of shopping and couponing at CVS, Walgreens, and HEB while Thomas studied and Drew napped; in one hour, the weather went from mildly drizzly to rain, thunder, lightning and gusts of wind. 

As Thom and I were putting the groceries away and I was about to get in the shower, we heard the tornado siren. Sure enough, we’d gotten texts telling us that there was a tornado warning until 3:00 and we should “seek shelter immediately.” I groaned, told Thom to get Drew out of bed, and grabbed a stack of blankets. We all sat down on the floor of the windowless bathroom, propped a groggy Andrew up on his dad’s knee, turned on Zootopia, and waited for forty-five minutes.

When you’re sheltering in place, it’s impossible to keep your mind from wandering, even if you’re not that scared. The radar said that the storm in question was moving past us and was practically in Dallas, but I’ve seen too many informational films and Weather Channel specials to argue with texts from the National Weather Service. I looked around the familiar bathroom from an unfamiliar angle, wondered for the millionth time why Texans don’t have basements when it seems like we SHOULD, and suddenly imagined the walls and ceiling gone. I wondered what the bathroom would look like if a deadly storm blew the walls away and carried off the ceiling. Would it be like one of those construction sites where you can walk between metal beams or would it be like a ruin? How much of our stuff would remain? Where could I sit or stand so Andrew was safest? Should I have brought something else in there with us?

I remembered this one time when I was little in Dallas—the tornado siren woke us up at midnight (it sounds like a train, in case you’re wondering), and suddenly Mom was in the doorway telling us in a panicked tone to get to the bathroom and sit in the tub. 

Maybe it’s the weird, unnatural feeling of sitting in an empty bathtub with your clothes on that makes this scene memorable. Maybe it’s the calmness that reigned in that little tiled room once there was nothing more we could do—I remember Mom, no longer visibly agitated, telling Ginni to tell the story of Esther or Cinderella to pass the time. I remember my blue-green nightgown. I remember being too terrified to be annoyed with Ginni. That’s a terror I’ve outgrown and almost forgotten, until we talk to kids about tornadoes.

Every year, we have tornado drills at school. Little kids line the hallways, kneel on the ground with their faces to the wall, and cover their heads with their hands. All you see are dozens of little bowed backs. They’re always silent—even the most rambunctious kindergartener somehow doesn’t need to be reminded to put a lid on it during a tornado drill. And they’re scared. Even if you tell them that nothing is happening and it’s just a drill, they’re scared. Little kids know what tornadoes mean. They know what natural disasters are about—blowing everything away.

I’ve never been in a hurricane, but I’ve seen all those images on tv of people leaving their houses to get into boats, their streets unnaturally flooded, their possessions floating away. All of a sudden, it’s about the souls around you—your car is underwater and your beautifully-decorated home is little more than matchwood. 

I grew up with older people in Massachusetts telling stories about where they were during the Blizzard of ‘78—the one that blew in so unexpectedly that people froze in their cars on the highway. A friend told me about her front door being torn off—my mother-in-law was student teaching and got home just in time, in obedience to the voice on the school’s intercom that ordered “everyone leave now”. Their voices when they tell these stories are relieved—and still contain wonder. We humans should be more scared of disasters, but we never are until they appear and make themselves as scary as possible. 

After the 45 minutes of tornado warnings, the facebook pictures appeared—where everyone was when they got the order to “seek shelter”: families reading books, friends hanging out at home, kids out shopping. It was all abandoned, and everyone found the windowless bathrooms and safe spots in hallways. Kids crammed together in dry bathtubs. A bride getting her hair done in a basement. A sleepy toddler watching Zootopia on the iPad. All our plans—my shower, that movie people were going to turn on, that cup of coffee they were getting ready to order—all our next five minutes were abandoned as we took ourselves somewhere safe and sat with our people.

And I got this weird feeling as I looked at those pictures: is this what it’s going to be like when Jesus comes again? The Bible makes it seem like it. All of a sudden, whatever you’re doing will be forgotten and forever left undone. CS Lewis says it better, of course, but it stuck with me all day. Those pictures were a weird preview of the Last Day. I’m not as scared of tornadoes as I used to be, but one scarier than a tornado could show up at any moment and we’d see “the whole physical universe melting away” (CS Lewis). No wonder kids are scared—“disaster” is something they get and we don’t.

There’s this Jars of Clay song I like called “I Need You”, and it contains the line, “Do I want shelter from the rain or the rain to wash me away?” I’m not entirely sure what it means, but it makes me think of this idea. People who lose everything in hurricanes thank God for sparing them, and I thanked God for sparing us in that bathroom during the warning. Because God is our shelter. And the only thing keeping us all from being blown to kingdom come at any minute is his preservation. I’m sorry this isn’t smarter or more eloquent; I know this post doesn’t hang together very well. It’s just a picture in my head that I’m trying to paint—a picture of children lined up against the wall, scared to death, praying that they will be spared. Many kids in Texas experience God’s bigness and power in those hallways, myself included. I still remember lowering my head and commending my spirit into his hands. I’ve never seen a funnel cloud. I’ve never had the ceiling lifted off me. But I’ve had those silent drills where I wondered what the clouds would look like being rolled back like a scroll.

Dear Andrew- Something Happens

You don’t know this, but I take medicine every day. It’s not for my nose like yours, it’s for my brain. By the time you read this, you’ll understand a little bit better what that means, but let’s just say that I’m scared all the time and the medicine makes me not so scared. At least, I can tell which things are REALLY scary and which just SEEM scary. Some things that present themselves as terrors turn out to be just jackets hung over chairs in dim light, but you don’t know that until morning. And a lot of life is like that—as you get older and smarter, you see things as they really are. 

But some things will always be scary, and you just have to be brave.

I’ve been thinking about this because recently you’ve been wrestling with your own fears. Some of them are old and familiar, like the fear of the vacuum or of going to the doctor. And some of them are new, like the balance beam thing at the park that may or may not hold you. And I can tell when you’re scared, because you have a telling phrase you use: “nothing’s gonna happen.”

You learned this phrase from me that time we went to visit Chelsea and you encountered her King Charles Spaniel. An affectionate, energetic, curious dog—she was a little much for you. Eventually, you would retreat to my lap or run across the room when you saw her, often just in time before she bounded up to you for those too-hard dog kisses. And I would put one hand on you and one hand on the dog and say, “Andrew, don’t worry. I’m here, nothing’s gonna happen. She’s a sweet puppy, she won’t hurt you.” So when she got close, you would look at me with anxious eyes and say, “Nothing’s gonna happen?” Yes, I would remind you, nothing’s gonna happen. I’m here.

The other day you woke up with what I thought was pink-eye. So we went to the doctor. Our pediatrician walked into the room, amiable as ever, smiling and giving high-fives and letting you hold the light-thing. But it didn’t matter. You knew what he was all about…shots. And no matter how many times I told you we would NOT be getting a shot, you couldn’t quite make yourself believe it. And while the doctor and I were talking about your eyes and your allergy medicines and insurance, your brave facade finally shattered and you started to cry. It was the most awful thing to see—you sitting up there on the exam table in the brightly-painted room, wearing your shorts and polo shirt and tears just dripping. “Nothing’s gonna happen,” you said, shaking your head back and forth, eyes squeezed tight against the “nothing” that might happen. “Nothing’s gonna happen!” And nothing did happen, except that it turned out you didn’t have pink-eye and we spent 30 minutes in the Walgreens drive-thru for no reason. 

(While we were in that drive-thru, you started a wordless tantrum of screeches. Then, when the screams were over, you yelled out one word: “Screamin’!” Yeah, dude, I get it…screamin.)

This new development has me as perplexed as any other, because although it’s adorable to hear you repeat things, and it’s helpful to know when you’re anxious, I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve misled you. Because, my love, something MIGHT happen. Something is always happening. Nobody ever promised us otherwise.

This is the sort of thing I can’t tell you because you’re a baby. But if I did, it would sound like this: “Don’t say ‘nothing’s gonna happen’, because something ALWAYS happens, that’s how life goes. In fact, Jesus said that bad things would happen to you, and all sorts of awful stuff happened to the disciples and the early Christians (the Storykeepers are always ending up in prison or under threat of execution), and you’ve seen people get sick and suffer and you know that in the end everybody dies. These sorts of things test us and refine our faith and are the result of living in a fallen world. Don’t worry, Jesus will get you through it and Jesus has your back…unfortunately we won’t know THAT for sure until we die, but my fingers are crossed.” Inspiring, I know.

When people tell me about things they fear, or start wringing their hands over a possibility, my first instinct is to break down the fear into manageable pieces and explain why it isn’t possible, or won’t be that bad, or isn’t inevitable, or won’t kill you. Sometimes that’s helpful and sometimes it isn’t. 

When I was defending you from the embraces of the puppy, I meant what I said—nothing’s going to happen. Of course what I meant was, nothing bad is going to happen. Specifically, you’re not going to get bitten. But now that I think about it, I didn’t know that 100 percent. I mean, I was like 87% sure, but what if you were the hallmark of terror to that dog? What if it had a vendetta against adorable boys in Star Wars shirts? What if you stepped on it and it was acting in self-defense?

You see what I’m saying? The “what if this” sort of thought process is toxic and exhausting, a way of distracting you from your life and making you fight imaginary werewolves when the real-life puppy is just sitting there in front of you. But the “nothing’s gonna happen” isn’t true—or might not be true. And so instead of either of these, we have to live in the truth and face our fears as they come. We can’t hide from them and we can’t try and predict them. 

So what DOES Jesus say?

Jesus said not to worry about tomorrow because each day has enough problems. He was right, of course. But he also said that in this world we would have problems. Those aren’t comforting statements—basically, he said we’d have problems every day and that we shouldn’t freak out. Ok, done.

The world is full of Christians praying to Jesus and trying to trust Him and be brave. Some of them are in doctor’s offices and some are in prison. Some are in combat and some are in high school. Many of us are just mothers and fathers who have to take medicine so our brains work correctly and we can be brave about ordinary things.

And what is bravery? I’m not sure, because it really isn’t a feeling. Bravery is just doing something you’re scared of. Facing the dog and looking the vacuum cleaner in the eye or whatever. For Mommy, it’s driving on highways…you can’t see my face when I’m driving, but I’ve found that if I just grip the wheel and look forward, the fear becomes courage—there’s nothing else for it to become, because I have to keep moving. Once, I faced a great and terrible fear—the fear that I would die when you were born. And I faced it by falling asleep and committing it all to Jesus. And strangely, the fear went away. Instead I got peace. I can’t explain HOW it works, but it DOES work. 

 When we watch the Easter Storykeepers and see Jesus carrying the cross, you always say “Jesus, so brave.” The first time you watched that scene I got so choked up that was all I could say. Remember the man on the cross, the brave one. The Storykeepers are brave, and the real-life Storykeepers—Christians in North Korea and Iran—are brave too, and I’m sure they cry and feel terror rise up in their chests, and I’m sure they tell themselves that nothing’s gonna happen. But mostly I think they just pray. They know what could happen. They’ve always known. 

But that isn’t you…not today. Each day has its own troubles, and your troubles are vacuums and shots and time-out. Let’s deal with them. You’re braver than I thought—rather than crying when you saw the vacuum this morning, you looked at it head-on and asked, “vacuum cleaner?” You didn’t take your eyes off it; it didn’t try anything. 

Why such bravery all of a sudden? Because I was physically between you two? Because nothing’s happened so far? Or just because fears wax and wane as you get older, like the light in a room that turns a terrifying crouching monster into a sweater draped over a chair…

Anyway, all I can do is promise you this… the same thing Pop Pop told me when I asked him about what if a tornado tore the roof off, which I repeated to a little boy after a lockdown drill. If something comes after you, it has to get through me first.