Silent Night, Holy Night

The lights go down and a further hush blankets the sanctuary.

candlesThe lighting of the candles begins with just one candle, somewhere at the front of the church. We scramble to find ours, stuffed between hymnals, on the floor beneath piles of winter coats, stuffed in holiday purses.

I learned at a young age to tip my unlit candle into the flame of another, then to hold my burning candle straight and steady while the someone next to me dipped into it.

When all the candles are lit, the entire church aglow with flickering flames and their reflections, the organist’s introduction retards and it’s time. Time to sing Silent Night by candlelight on Christmas Eve.

My favorite holiday moment, my most precious holiday memories. Dozens of holy nights, most of them right here in this small Lutheran church in small town America, my hometown, the one I return to for as many Christmases as I can.

From childhood to my own children, past to present, old chapters to new.

As a girl, I stared at my candle, mesmerized by the flame, fearful of the wax that could drip, no guarantee that it would be caught by the cardboard ringing the little white candle. I listened to my mother’s beautiful singing voice, rising above all others near me, carrying those around her who were hesitant, unsure. As the years went on, my voice reached for hers and, finally, we could look into each other’s eyes, brimming with a single tear, and hear our voices ring out together.

And my dad’s voice, deep, seeming to rise from his boots, special because I only got to hear him sing in church twice a year. His favorite Christmas hymn, we all knew, was O Holy Night, but he liked this one, too. This occasion was just as special for him as it was for the rest of us. Every year, after the first verse, he’d switch to humming. He could have read the words in the program, but no, he preferred to just hum. My siblings and I always giggled beneath him.

He’s gone now. Gone for 23 years. Divorced and moved far, far away from any of us. There are other deep voices now–little boys grown up, new husbands and male significant others–but no one hums as my dad did when I was a little girl.Silent Night 5

Once I became a mom, I was busy teaching my children how to light their candles, how to hold them, to be careful. My youngest held her first candle when she was not quite two. I had my video camera that year and wanted to capture the moment for forever, so I arranged, in advance, for my mother-in-law, who was there with us that time, to watch Amy closely while I stepped out of the pew to film my entire family. Through the viewfinder, I watched as Amy slowly pulled the flame toward her lip, sure that my mother-in-law would stop it in time, remind her to hold the candle upright, away from her or anyone else’s body. But that’s not how it happened; instead, a loud shriek cut through the silent night, holy night, and trailed off as my mother-in-law rushed her out of the sanctuary and into the narthex, me chasing after her, the video not turning out quite as I had hoped it would. For years, I was transfixed with my children’s faces, as they stared at their lit candles in wonder, another generation focusing on not dropping the candles, not letting the wax burn their little hands, not putting the flame to their lips.

On this particular Christmas Eve, I am blessed to be holding one of the newest additions to our family, my grand-nephew, Owen Daniel, four months old. He had been with his dad for most of the service, but Matthew handed him to me just before the lighting of the candles. Afterward, I thanked him for sharing his son, for letting me hold him during this special moment. “Sure,” he said. “I wanted to give him to someone I could trust, with the candles and all.” Apparently he hasn’t heard the story of Amy Claire.

I move outside my pew, against the wall of the church, perpendicular to all those I love. I turn Owen outward so he can gaze at the candlelight. As an adult now, with nearly grown children, my wonder is not on the candles or even the glory of the voices around me. Instead, I focus on each family member, one at a time, and marvel at them and their contribution to this family, this family that keeps coming together, year after year, one Christmas to the next. Four generations now taking up nearly four pews.

In front of me is my mom, the matriarch of the bunch, and her man Jackson, a permanent fixture in our family. They hold their candles with their outside hands, their inside ones clutched together in the folds of my mom’s winter dress coat. Next to her, my nephew, a grown man, just married. He has his arm around my mom, his grandma. I watch as he whispers something into her ear. Later, she tells me what he said. “If it weren’t for your spirituality and you teaching confirmation class, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.”

Up and down the pews–my sister, her husband, their grown children, now with spouses and children of their own, my brother, his wife, their boys who are nearly the same ages as my girls. And Jim, my Jim.

Missing, this year, are my daughters. They are visiting their father over Christmas. My focus eventually lands on this baby boy in my arms and lingers until the final words–Jesus Lord at Thy birth. A brand new baby. Another generation. His first Christmas. I am the one to hold him during this most holy of moments on his first Christmas. A whole life ahead of him. A life with this family, this family of God, this group of incredibly loving, welcoming, wonderful people.

As my teary eyes reflect the candlelight around me, I think, too, of my own babies. They are clearly missing from our group, both of them possessing a vitality crucial to the second-to-youngest generation here, the generation of young adults, the next bunch to leave home, venture into the world, and return, at least for Christmases, perhaps for good.

My oldest is off to college next year, my youngest to France for her year abroad. The candlelight spills from my eyes as I miss her already not being here with us in this church next Christmas Eve, not being with us at all for the entire holiday season.

If my oldest–the singer, the artist, the free spirit–were here this eve, she would stand beside me and we’d sing together just as my mother and I once did.

I wipe the candlelight from my cheeks, catching it on my fingers before it falls on Owen’s bald baby head. Sad tears for feeling the void here in our family pews. But mostly happy tears. For the joy of Christmas, the joy of my loved ones, and the bundle of joy wrapped up in my arms.

The final words are sung, the organ fades away, but remaining here in the silence of this holy night is love, peace, faith, hope, and the candlelight, dancing in my tears.

3:44 p.m. on 11/30/13

Admittedly, if it weren’t for A Moment in Time, 3:44 p.m. on November 30, 2013 would have come and gone without any recognition whatsoever. It would have been just one of the approximately 415 minutes of the road trip back home after visiting family for Thanksgiving.

But because of A Moment in Time, I focused on what was going on and took note of it. Now I will write about it. Now it will be forever etched in my memory and will have played an important part in shaping my thoughts about the day and Thanksgiving and family and the changes that can happen during the course of one year.

We were almost home, just about 40 minutes left in the seven hour trip. I noted an interesting cloud ahead of us. It looked like a giant eel, mouth open, about to gobble up a certain plane of the sky. My daughter was next to me, singing, as she had been fcloudor most of the trip. I would have had to yell for her to hear me, so instead I just pointed. Cloud. Camera. She looked at me like Really? You need a picture of that?, not knowing that I was going to blog about this moment. Then she obliged. It’s not a very good picture, but it was part of the moment.

As she sang, I realized as I have almost every day for the past several months how much I’m going to miss her sweet voice next year. She’ll be graduated (hopefully) and off to college (hopefully) and, though she’s often doing her own thing and I’m doing mine, she’s like background music. Always there. I’ll miss her. The other daughter, in the back seat, may be away, too. She’s applying to be a foreign exchange student. We’ll find out within a month if she’ll spend her junior year abroad. I’m not even thinking about missing her yet. Nine months away. It’ll be worse than sending a daughter off to college.

So what will Thanksgiving be like next year? It’s amazing how things change from one year to the next. Most of my relatives are in my hometown, but this past year my brother lost his job and had to relocate to another state for new employment. His wife, a teacher, will join him once the school year ends. One of their sons started college this fall and the second will begin next year. Now that his parents are relocating, who knows where he’ll go to college. Will we see this chunk of our extended family next year?

And then there is the new generation. This Thanksgiving, we were blessed to spend time with two two-year-old grandnieces and a three-month-old grandnephew. To think how much they will change in one year’s time! And perhaps there will be new little ones within a year’s time, too.

And what about health. Everyone is healthy this year. What a miracle that is and nothing to be taken for granted. Moments are passing and we’re all aging.

Reflecting on this year, this moment, and wondering where my girls will be next year makes me extra grateful for this quick snapshot in time, taken on Thanksgiving Day 2013.

photo-6

After a few moments, I turn the music down, and say, “Hey, what’s the name of the song you were singing? The one about the sweater?” It’s what was on right at 3:44.

She thinks for a second or two. “The Sweater Song.”

“Really?”

She smiles and nods. (Hedley’s not Weezer’s, Sweater Song)

It’s a sweet song and I’ll always remember her voice singing it 374 minutes into our road trip home from Thanksgiving with the extended family. This Thanksgiving. 2013. What will be happening next year at this time? Another year gone. A year of changes, here and there.

Each moment, good or bad, happy or sad…. each one counts. Each is precious, relevant, consequential, leading into the next and the next and the next. Moments in time.

———

A Moment in Time is a shared blogging experience, where writers document and share their stories from the same moment on the same day. The day and time for the next A Moment in Time is posted by Randee every few days in such a way that you’ll have a heads up on the exact moment to which you need to attend and focus on and, if it’s significant in some way, write about and add to the list.

Art, or Maybe Just a Doodle

“Knock, knock.”

“Who’s there?”

“Come in!”

She’s on her bed, all tucked in, sketch pad on lap, earbuds in.

“Whatcha doing?”

“Drawing.”

“Can I see?”

“Yeah.” She tilts the pad toward me.

“Cool!”

“Yeah, my friend, Nick, had this gel pen, and I wanted to borrow it. He made me promise to draw him something.”

“You mean you’re giving that away?”

“Yep. Tomorrow.”

“Well, let me take a picture of it first. We have to save it in our own little way.”

“Okay.”

A few hours later, she emerges from her room and drops the sketch pad on the kitchen table where I’m sitting, reading the paper.

Alarmed, I scan the surface. It’s not all that often that our kitchen table is crumb- and sticky spot-free. I, myself, would never set anything of importance on this table without checking first.

Maybe that’s it. Maybe she doesn’t consider this an important work of art. She draws a lot. Perhaps it’s just a three-hour doodle to her.

I grab my camera, anxious to get the picture before she changes her mind. She’s known for fluctuating moods.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“Look at this, Ads, look how neat it looks.” The LCD on my camera magnifies the intensity of every shot. (Still, it looks pretty good here on my laptop screen as well. Each line, in the original work, is one, maybe two, millimeters from the next.)

“Yeah, mom, that’s okay, but this is how I like to photograph this type of art.” She twists the dial to macro, leans down, and angles the camera just so.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I like it, though it reminds me a bit of how my text messages and other up-close reading material have looked lately. Blurry in spots, blurry at some angles, blurry most days now. I’m hoping I can make do until my vision insurance kicks in on January 1st.

I try Addy’s style of shooting the swirly art, thank her for the photography fun and the opportunity to keep her work. Even if it is, to her, just some doodling.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Hats Off to My Parents

I am just home from two days of parent-teacher conferences and am exhausted but satisfied.

Satisfied with my students’ progress.

Satisfied with the families in our community.

Satisfied with the parenting I see and the way this generation of kids is being raised.

I know we often hear otherwise.

We hear about kids who aren’t proficient.

Kids who don’t meet the standards.

We hear of families struggling financially.

We hear of divorce.

We hear of parents who don’t spend quality time with their children.

Yet they do.

I see it happening.

I witness that most of these parents are doing the best they can.

And that their best is far better than what you typically hear about.

I’m proud of my parents.

More

Random Kitchen Conversations on a Sunday Afternoon

Addy:  Mom, do we have any more laundry detergent?

Mom:  No, but it’s on the list.

Addy’s Friend:  Oh, that’s okay, I brought my own.

Addy:  Hey, you want to make brownies? We have a mix.

Friend:  Yah!

Addy:  K, let’s mix everything except the oil. Then, we can some batter before we bake them and it won’t be so gross.

Addy:  Mmmm, want some batter, Amy?

Amy:  Yah, I’ll take a bite.

Friend:  I’ll have some more.

Addy:  (slurping off the spoon) Mmm, I can’t stop eating this.

Addy:  Okay, let’s put the oil in now and bake these things.

Amy:  Do we have any cream of tartar?

Mom:  I think so.

Amy:  Can the neighbor borrow it? She’s making Chemical Apple Pie.

Mom:  She’s making what?

Amy:  It’s some kind of fake apple pie. It doesn’t have apples in it.

Mom:  Oh. Weird. Why?

Amy:  I don’t know. What is cream of tartar? Where is it?

Mom:  It’s in the spice cupboard, a little one, with a red lid. I don’t really know what it is, to be honest.

Addy:  You should let us try this with you, Mom. It’s so fun. You laugh really hard, in a weird rhythm.

Mom:  No, it’ll make me cry.

Addy:  It’s okay. We cried, too.

Mom:  No, really, you know me. I’ll, like, cry-cry if you make me laugh too hard.

Addy:  Come on , Mom! You gotta try stuff. Your life is just passing you by.

Mom:  Okay, but I’m scared.

Addy:  Amy, you do it to her. I’m going to videotape.

Mom:  No! I’m not doing it. We do not need a videotape of this.

Addy:  I’ll just videotape the sound then.

Mom:  No, I don’t trust you.

Addy:  Okay, fine. I’ll put my phone out here.

Amy:  K, mom, lay down. Cross your arms over your chest, like this. Right before I push on you, take a deep breath.

Addy, Amy, Friend:  (laughing) You have to laugh, Mom! Don’t hold your breath!

Amy:  K, here we go again.

Mom: Aaarrroooooooophhhhh!

Addy, Amy, Friend:  (laughing) What was that?

Mom:  (crying) Let me up! Let me up! Let me out of here!

Addy:  What, mom? You’re cooking dinner?

Mom:  Well, sort of. I need to use this Swiss chard that someone gave me. It’s bitter and needs to be cooked a little. So, I’m making a pasta dish with it. Want some?

Addy:  No, mom, you know I don’t eat pasta.

Addy:  Hey, T, do you want some real food? I’ll make you something.

Friend:  Yes, please.

Mom:  I wish you would have told me T was coming over and doing her laundry and staying a while. If I’d have known, I would have planned something good for dinner.

Addy:  Really? Well, I’ll just cook her something. What do we have?

Mom:  How about quesadillas? We have tortillas, cheese, black beans, salsa, plenty of veggies if you want to add some.

Addy:  Okay. Do we have the good tortillas?

Mom:  Yes. But wait. Not now. Wait until I’m done cooking.

Friend:  Oooo! What is that? It smells good.

Mom:  Well, I sautéed Swiss chard and onion and garlic and mixed it together with angel hair pasta. I also added a little avocado, lime, and some parmesan cheese. Want some?

Friend:  Yes! That looks so good.

Addy:  Okay, fine. I’ll try it, too.

Friend:  This is good! The avocado in there adds a lot.

Addy:  Do you want a quesadilla, too? Have you had these kind of tortillas? The raw ones?

Friend:  (looking at the tortilla package) Nope. Never.

Addy:  (eating a raw quesadilla) Here. Try one. They’re so good.

Friend:  (looking skeptical) What do they taste like?

Addy:  Nothing. Wait. Carbs. They taste like carbs.

Addy:  Do you want to make some music, T?

Friend:  No, but I’ll listen to you sing.

Addy:  Here, I’ll teach you the song I just learned this weekend.

Friend:  Wait! Let me make sure my emotions are in check before you start singing.

Addy:  (playing the guitar) The sky looks pissed, The wind talks back, My bones are shifting in my skin, And you my love are gone… (“The Chain” by Ingrid Michaelson).

Amy:  Uh! Are you crying, T?

Mom:  She should be! Addy, your voice is perfect for that song.

Addy:  Aw, thanks, Mom.  Come on, T, you should sing or play the piano.

Amy:  The neighbor’s bringing over a slice of the pie. Will you taste it with me?

Mom:  Let’s google it while we’re waiting. See what it’s about.

Mom:  Gross, it really is called Chemical Apple Pie. Who would call it that?  Oh, here’s an explanation:  This is a recipe for apple pie made without apples. It has all the characteristics of an apple pie with apples. If you didn’t know better, you’d think that there really were apples in it. This is an old chemistry lab experiment to teach the limits of human senses.  (John Pile on AllRecipes.com)

Amy: (pie in hand) It looks pretty good, Mom.

Mom:  Oh, I see they put ice cream with it. That should help.”

Amy:  Mmm, it’s good.

Mom:  Mmm, yes it is. It wouldn’t be as good without the ice cream.

Amy:  I actually like the pie part better.

Mom:  Okay, then give me another bite with a lot of ice cream.

Amy:  No, I want the rest. (Turns to run out of the room, with the pie, inadvertently leaves her phone there)

Mom: (spanking Amy as she runs while simultaneously snatching up the phone) Ha! You’ll have to trade me a bite for your phone.

Amy:  You’re such a brat! (Gives mom another bite)

Mom:  You leaving?

Friend:  Yes, thank you so much for having me over. I have to go though. I’m pooped.

Mom:  Do you have your laundry?

Friend:  Oh, my gosh! I almost forgot about that!

Addy:  Did we ever put it in the dryer?

Friend:  Yes. I did.

Addy:  That’s good. Since that’s the reason you had to do it here anyway—your dryer’s broken. Come on, let’s go get it.

Mom:  Bye, T.

Addy:  Mom, does this outfit look good for tomorrow?

Mom:  Yah, that’s cute. What do you have going on?

Addy:  You can’t just say it’s cute. It has to be really cute or not.

Mom:  Oh, well… It’s okay. Are you trying to impress someone?

Addy:  No, I’m just trying to outdo myself.

“Outdo myself.” There’s a phrase. Something to think about. In what aspects of my life do I try to outdo myself? How about you?