Secrets

AndersonChristmas-2017

(Christmas photo of the 10 of us)

The week after Thanksgiving Pastor Randy preached about Zechariah and Elizabeth. It was a birth announcement brought by an angel to a skeptical old man who’d be keeping the secret to himself until it became too obvious to hide. I sat there at church listening to the story and chuckling to myself. It must be the season for keeping secrets about babies.  

I’ve known since Thanksgiving. And you can’t imagine the countless conversations perfect for sharing such a secret. Coworkers sitting around a lunch table showing off pictures of their grands, and my lips sealed about the one on the way. A whole month of Advent coming – the Baby coming, and by the way – ours is coming, too!  

We’re having a baby. A grandbaby, that is, and setting aside the question of whether or not I’m seriously old enough for such an endeavor, I’ve been dreaming about this for quite some time. It was a God-dream in triplicate, and I’ve never doubted for a moment His perfect wisdom in weaving it in. Go to seminary. Write books. Enjoy your grandchildren.

ENJOY. Them.

And the first little grand is on its merry little way come July.

I’m going to be a Grandma. Nana, maybe – the first name to come to mind when they asked what I’d like to be called. Nana snuggled up on a sofa with a sweaty little fellow, tickling his chubby bare toes. Nana arms wrapped tight around a pig-tailed princess, listening to precious chatter. Nana reading stories. Always. Stories.

Nana next Christmas holding a BABY. A baby boy, or a baby girl, a secret no longer. This time next year our little one will already be growing too fast, smiling toothless. Doted by a whole slew of uncles. Luke will be the goofy uncle – Trey’s predication at our Christmas gathering, and I couldn’t get over the genuine excitement of this college-football-player turned baby-enthusiast. A first-cousin-once-removed, right? Yeah, I think so.

Christmas morning it was just the eight of us enjoying breakfast, and I told Kiana about the massive farmhouse table in my plans for our house by the lake. Another dream, and we’ll see if this one comes true, but no matter, I’ll be enjoying my grandchildren – all five times who-knows-how-many of them filling our house to the rafters some Christmas future.

My friend Jenny, mom of three boys living now in West Virginia, posted holiday pictures of a Playmobile castle, and boys in bunk-beds, clip-on lamps illuminating new Christmas books. You’re living my life. I made my comment, feeling a little nostalgic, but mostly I’m imagining bunks full of grands, and bedtime stories.

I’ve been saving an assortment of favorites. Not the castle, but a Playmobile playground and nativity set. A wooden red barn, built by Kyle. Building blocks with the sweetest wooden figures. And of course, a whole library of children’s books.

Last night Kiana and Grant talked about the new house they’re in the process of purchasing, down in Des Moines. Their little starter-home selling the day before Christmas. A bigger house will mean more bathrooms and bedrooms for an expanding family and out-of-town guests. (Grandparents, of course.) And we talked about how much easier it is to pack up and move pre-children than post, me saying I could understand better now how moms tend toward a bit of packrat nostalgia, keeping things precious, reluctant to toss.

Last night we welcomed old family friends for a post-Christmas gathering, and we shared the news with them. Our kitchen was full to bursting with our boy-men, once playmates, and Maple running circles, wagging the ornaments off our Christmas tree. So much chaos in this expanding family, with no end in sight. I sigh, happy. I’ll take it.

I’m going to be a Nana. Imagine that.

 

(in) Love

Fall on Your Knees

It started with a conversation over brunch last Saturday. All of us minus the marrieds sat around the dining room table loading waffles with strawberries and whip, and I can’t really remember what had been said, but there was Jimmy, matter of fact. The only reason God created people was so we could worship him, and the Bible says he regretted he ever made us. Just like that. The boy’s been feeling a bit distant from God and no wonder.

I let those words simmer all day and night, and next morning I got up early to pray. I brewed the coffee and plugged in the tree, sat snuggled up in a blanket Nils and Lauren had picked for my birthday. My thoughts were scattered. A dream from just before waking still lingering, things to do a week before Christmas. And then, just like that, He took all of it captive and invaded my brain like only He can, bringing to focus His Word for the day. Which was LOVE. It’s got to be love. Any attempt at telling this story short of this perspective falls short and then some, and before any theology or anything else there’s got to be Love.

Hours later we sat in church singing my current favorite worship song. Just down the row was our buddy, Mike, and it’s his favorite, too, and we’re both singing our hearts out when it hits me. How it’s only worship if first it’s love. A love song of praise, and…

I can see Your heart in everything You’ve made
Every burning star
A signal fire of grace
If creation sings Your praises so will I
 

Later during halftime of the Vikings game we gathered again around the dining room table to light a candle, thick discs of peppermint bark our Advent treat, and I held my Bible so they could see it, saying without hesitation. This book, before it’s anything else, is a story of Love. How He loves. And I reminded them of my Covenant word, this word Hesed. No English translation strong enough, and the whole story is woven through with this fierce and furious fighting love of a God who never gives up.  

Pastor Randy had said much the same just an hour or so earlier from the pulpit. How those angels showing up and scaring the shepherds half to death weren’t exactly singing Christmas carols. A heavenly host, meaning an Angel Army, and this was WAR. His fighting love, come to earth, come to save us, just like He’d said.

Later Sunday Luke drove to the airport to pick up Ali for an early Christmas. I could see it in my boy’s face, just like I saw it in Emma’s last week at the basketball game. My sweet young friend in her second year down at Wheaton, and she’s on her holiday break, but she can’t stop thinking about that boy home with his own family out in California, and this LOVE is a crazy thing. Invading our thoughts and consuming our lives, and waking us up to be fully alive. Goodness. Human love alone is enough to transform us, and it’s the stuff of worship when we’re convinced our GOD loves us like that.

All week we’re in and out with girls and guys. Savoring time with Ali, and visits from Lauren, and even Marcela, who’s just a friend, but even at that you can see all the good she’s doing Felipe whenever she’s around. And I think about how all the life was sucked out of a boy, so distant, when he lost his love, and it’s a mystery, isn’t it? How much it matters. There’s nothing if there’s no love. And if God’s not LOVE before He’s anything else, why bother?

And as You speak
A hundred billion creatures catch Your breath
Evolving in pursuit of what You said
If it all reveals Your nature so will I
I can see Your heart in everything You say
Every painted sky
A canvas of Your grace
If creation still obeys You so will I
So will I
So will I

So Will I by Joel Houston, Benjamin Hastings & Michael Fatkin, Hillsong Music

Carols

Marshmallow Pops

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
From now on your troubles will be out of sight…
 

The song was playing on my car radio, and for maybe the first time it struck me how absurd it is. Maybe it was the text message I’d just received, telling me about Grant’s high school teammate, being rushed to the hospital with head injuries, unresponsive. His young bride a best friend of my own best friends, and here she is, Christmas on its merry way, and all she can see is trouble, no doubt.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all about the lights and all things light-hearted during this most wonderful time of the year. My child-heart lives for this month of wonder. From Thanksgiving to New Years I can ignore gloomy forecasts and gloomier newscasts sitting in the glow of a Christmas tree. But always right there on the edge of delight is this nagging thought. January’s coming, like it always does.

January came by way of a phone call last night. Sobering news we’d been expecting, a reminder we’re not living in a fairytale. I was in the kitchen, my Apple Music set to carols, baking our family’s favorite almond cookies, and I could hear Kyle down the hall, advising, surmising, this impossibly broken situation. What more can we do?

Wednesday morning I told the MOMs group at church about how I’m an Advent junky. I love this season. Love. Advent means Coming. The coming of Jesus, as a babe in a manger, and His coming again as Victorious King. This year, especially, I’ve been near to obsession, fixed on the latter. This coming again, and all that’s awaiting.

It was the middle of the night after we lit our first Advent candle when I found Eldredge’s book. All Things New. I’ve read it once from cover to cover, and I’m starting again for a second read. The author says this in his final chapter:

The renewal of all things is the most beautiful, hopeful, glorious promise ever made in any story, religion, philosophy, or fairy tale. And it is real. 

This story we’re living, with all it’s broken and tragic disappointments has a fairytale ending after all.

Earlier this week Pastor Sean said something to me in a brief conversation, and it was so insightful, I wrote it down. He was talking about the way things were back in the Garden of Eden, before we were broken, and why we’re so desperate to get back what we lost. We were perfect in Eden. PERFECT. Not broken. Why wouldn’t this perfection be our soul’s inclination? No wonder we live with these fairytale dreams.

A merry little Christmas, and all our troubles out of sight.

We sang Joy to the World at staff prayer on Tuesday, and apparently this is the week for me to critique our carols. As we finished our singing I said it out loud. It’s not really about Christmas. Our most popular carol, no baby, no manger. Just – Joy to the world, the Lord has come… 

And then Nate spoke up to answer my question. It’s about His return, His second coming.

You’ve got to be kidding. I can’t escape it. This ADVENT. This COMING. Maybe this is what Christmas is really about?

Joy to the world, the Lord has come!
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart prepare Him room
And Heaven and nature sing
And Heaven and nature sing
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing

Joy to the World, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy

No more let sins and sorrows grow
Nor thorns infest the ground
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found
Far as the curse is found
Far as, far as, the curse is found

He rules the world with truth and grace
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness
And wonders of His love
And wonders of His love
And wonders, wonders, of His love

By Isaac Watts, 1719

Escape

Maple Christmas

Later today Kyle and I will pack our bags and make our escape. I’ve been giddy all week with anticipation. It’s become our December tradition – anniversary celebration and Christmas preparation, both. Just the two of us for an overnight stay someplace romantic, and holiday shopping turned from drudgery to delight. A most wonderful time of the year.

When the boys were younger we had another practice. Every December on the 16th or near it, we’d both take the day off while our kids went to school. We’d stoke up a fire, light candles and tree, linger long over breakfast, just the two of us for an entire day. Then came the year when a college-bound boy surprised us by showing up early for his Christmas vacation, and Oh, hello. Not quite what we’d hoped for, and time, it seemed, for a change of venue.

So this morning I’ll be making my lists and checking them twice, in hopes boys left at home will be less naughty than nice. Not to mention the puppy-dog. Just yesterday Peggy called while I was still at work – Is Maple at home? I think I just saw her… That little zap so worth it for a romp with her buddies. Escaped just like that.

A boy, who shall remain nameless, nearly lit our Advent wreath on fire on purpose last time we attempted family devos. Hide all the matches. On my list, too.

Gift cards for dinners. A new battery for Maple’s collar. A text to Grammy, filling her in.

I tell you, it’s worth it. Forty-eight hours just me and my hubby. How soon can we leave?

Don’t get me wrong. I love this crew of knuckleheads. Truth be told, they’ll be the center of every conversation from the minute we begin our driveway descent. We’ll replay, at least once, Jimmy’s first ever basketball game last week when his JV team was down by a point in the final seconds, and it was Jimmy who laid up that game-winning shot. And we’ll talk about how Felipe needs a job, but aren’t we impressed with how independent he’s becoming, making dates with friends, and he’s spending less time gaming and more time creating. We’ll talk about all kinds of holiday plans, Ali’s visit the week after next, the same week Nils heads home for vacation. We wish Grant and Kiana could make it home sooner, and is there any way we could get to Des Moines for a pre-Christmas service? Then there’s my brother and family, and their big move from Wisconsin to Colorado right on top of Christmas, and we’re all hoping they’ll still be able to bring all those adorable kids to Minnesota for our family gathering. The schedule’s bound to be crazy, for them and us. Every year there’s another extended family to consider in our maze of planning. In-laws and sweethearts of brothers and cousins.

So we’ll make our lists and we’ll check them twice. And we’ll pray for each one, whether naughty or nice. We’ll count our own blessings, along the way, too. Twenty-eight anniversaries, and a weekend with you (:

Hope

Cocoa

We lit our first Advent candle on Sunday, the candle called “Hope.” And I should just pause right here and give you a taste of how that went. It was six from our family plus Nils’ girlfriend, Lauren – our guest. We all filled mugs with chocolate or cider, lavished with plenty of whip and sprinkles, cinnamon and caramel, and marshmallows, of course. Candle lighting for Anderson boys has always been accompanied by something sweet. Bribery, no doubt.

Sticky mugs and noisy teens circled the dining room table and you’d have thought we’d reverted to toddlerhood for all the arguing and grabbing and annoying comments. I handed matches to Lauren, since she was our guest, and right then and there the whole thing started to unravel. All my holy reading and reverent tradition hijacked by “Let’s let Lauren answer ALL the Advent questions, since she’s our guest.” And “It’s time for our guest to sing a song.” And just the day before I’d wondered out loud if it we should skip this fiasco, for this very reason.

I’m not sure if it was Sunday night or the night after when I laid awake heart heavy, thoughts gloomy, fighting sleep. It wasn’t the candles, but bleaker things. Things real and things imagined, the darkness of night and the dark of a season whispering lies. An hour or more I struggled to rest, seeking comfort. Aware of my husband twitching, snoring ­– considering escape, but to where? Desperate I grabbed my phone, turned down its brightness, and opened my Kindle app. And that’s when I found it. A book I’d not known about, purchased by Kyle, at the top of my library queue. All Things New by John Eldredge.

It’s been years since I’ve read Eldredge, not counting the book he wrote with his wife, and I re-read with Angie a few months back. The thing is, I owe some of my best God-thoughts to this author, whose Waking the Dead had my soul leaping to life a season ago. It was one of those books I read and reread, underlining and quoting and buying copies for all of my friends. And then somewhere along the way someone said something about Eldredge’s theology or use of scripture, and it didn’t really concern me, but he’s been gathering dust on my library shelves ever since.

So there I was curled up in blankets, phone hidden to keep its light from waking Kyle, my soul waking one more time. And it wasn’t the author’s thoughts I was reading, but my own Father’s. He who knows just what I need, just when I need it, and this was all Him, every word. The very first question of the very first chapter – Is there a hope that really overcomes all this? And then this quote:

It takes no courage to be an optimist,
But it takes a great deal of courage to have hope.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

For whatever reason in all this abundance of life and family and home and Advent, somewhere along the way these past few weeks we seem to have lost our grip just a subtle bit on this crucial thing. This HOPE. And that’s when it occurred to me, there in the dark, how it’s not so much theology needed right now but a good strong dose of something hopeful.

Every day since my midnight discovery, I’ve been adding All Things New to my morning reading. Not the Advent devos I’d intended, but what is ADVENT if it isn’t this? A season of giddy anticipation. A season of HOPE.

It was the one thoughtful comment during our candle-lighting debacle. Luke talking about how our hope is found in Jesus’ second-coming, and THIS is the premise of Eldredge’s book. Right there in the subtitle – Heaven, Earth, and the Restoration of Everything You Love. This author is genius at painting pictures with words, exquisite portraits from the pages of scripture, brought to life by imagination. (If you can somehow get your hands on this book, you should drop everything right this minute to read chapter 4!) And I’m thinking now about a paper I wrote for a seminary class. Imagination and Hope and their correlation. Research showing how imagining God and imagining His Kingdom is good for the soul. And how in the world could I have forgotten THIS?? 

Lately Jimmy’s become an artist, filling his sketchbook with pencil drawings of skulls and flowers – titled Half Dead. It’s beautiful and troubling, this look at our boy’s love-sick heart. And I’m thinking about Advent, and how it matters. Our hopes and our dreams – our imagination. The pictures we paint and the world we believe in. This is why we light candles – and we’ll light them again.

_____________________________________

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him! 

That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens.

Romans 8:15-21 (MSG)