Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Memorable Advent

It has truly been the best Advent ever for me. I just can't believe that in one year I started out with no friends in the area, hoping desperately to find just one kindred spirit, and ended up part of a closely-knit family of kindred spirits. I just can't believe how richly God has blessed me in 2010. To suddenly be essential and wanted, when before I felt displaced and even ignored, is a blessing for which I cannot stop marveling.

I've started several Christmas traditions for myself this year, as I suspect that I still have many years ahead of being single, and refuse to allow that circumstance to rob me of holiday joy. The first new tradition was my real tree. In my whole life, I had never had a real Christmas tree, and thus had no idea what I was missing. I cannot say enough how much better my real tree has been. The scent, the appearance, the fun of selecting the perfect one (I named him Clarence) . . . it's definitely going to take place each year, from now on.

Additionally, I greatly enjoyed my cookie-invention tradition, although I went a bit above and beyond this year: I invented five new types of cookies. Handing them out to others was so rewarding that I've decided to continue that each year as well. I regret that I did not have the time to make homemade cards, as I did last year, but I will make a solid effort to reinstate that tradition next year. I also plan to add in advent candles and readings next year; I meant to do it this year, but all the problems with migraines and medications left me too exhausted to put forth the effort.

Last weekend, I went with friends to see part of Handel's Messiah performed in Appomattox; it was absolutely heavenly. The music from Messiah always gives me goosebumps! As I often say, the mark of truly great music is when it makes the hair on the back of one's neck stand up. After the music, my close friends Rachel and David and I went out to a local coffee shop for coffee and biscotti. We ended up staying for a few hours! A few other patrons pulled out instruments, and before we knew it, the entire coffee shop (about twenty people) were spontaneously singing Christmas carols together. It was magical, like something you would see in a Frank Capra film. As the complete strangers sang together and shared holiday memories, you could feel the true spirit of Christmas enveloping that little coffee shop. I almost expected Jimmy Stewart to burst through the door and wish us all a merry Christmas!

On Tuesday of this week, the dogs and I headed up in the mountains to spend the remainder of Advent with dear friends from Lantern Hollow Press. Cozily ensconced around their old-fashioned wood-burning stove, with a fire adding both warmth and ambiance, we've had a lovely time. We've spent many hours editing, working on audio versions of stories (Brian built an impressive sound booth), and writing some new material. In addition, there has been plenty of fun, like cooking, baking, and watching scary shows after seven-year-old Annora is tucked into bed.

I've been able to spend loads of quality time with my very precocious goddaughter, Annora. We went sledding together the other day, we've watched Christmas movies together, and we've had some very enjoyable conversations (I love hearing a seven-year-old's vast store of wisdom). Annora told me all about her hopes for Christmas, and informed me that "I have been a very good girl this year, at least recently." Yesterday, when I had a horrible migraine all day long, Annora sweetly rubbed my neck for me and prayed for me. When I gratefully told her that I could not possibly have picked a nicer goddaughter than her, Annora replied, "But Aunt Stephanie, you didn't pick me. Mama and Daddy picked you!"

Jasper and Éowyn have loved running about off-leash in the snow, antagonizing the cats (the Meltons have two), exploring the house, playing with Annora, and grabbing any food that drops during the Christmas cooking. Yesterday Annora and I made rice crispy snowmen, which gave the dogs plenty of opportunity for droppings. Of course, Annora and I would never create normal snowmen; ours were alien snowmen with googly eyes, horns on their heads, and in one case, a bit of blood (candy) pouring from a battle wound (Annora's idea).

The best part of the holiday (so far) came yesterday. Annora dearly loves her grandmother and has been a bit saddened at not having her here for the holiday. Little did she know, one of her presents was her grandmother! Although Brian, Kami, and I have all nearly blown the secret in the past week, we miraculously managed to keep Annora from figuring out what was going on. Last night, we went out to dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, a trip sullied only by the fact that we had to stop for me to vomit on the way (the migraine was in full power). Throwing up did a lot of good; the migraine was nearly gone by the time we reached the restaurant.

As we sat pretending to look at our menus, Kami got the video camera fixed on Annora, who happily hammed it up and babbled away for the camera. Suddenly, her eyes grew wide as she observed a familiar figure walking into the restaurant.

"That looks like, that can't be . . . that's Nanny! It's Nanny! How did Nanny get here? Nanny, how did you get here? How did you do that?" Little Annora was the most adorable mixture of surprise, joy, and childlike confusion. It was so precious to see a little girl getting what she wanted most of all for Christmas!

Annora said the blessing for the meal, which she loves to do. I was overwhelmed at the sweet and merciful spirit of this little girl when she prayed specifically for a family we have never met, whom I read about in a news article a few days ago. This Ohio family lost all three children in a fire on the weekend, then the grandparents died in a car accident on the way to the funeral. It's a tragically sad story, but I did not expect a young child to remember it so clearly and take it to heart, particularly when she only overheard me telling her parents about the story. She's been thinking a lot about that family; I wish more of us could be so caring about strangers. We could all learn a lot from children.

Tonight will be a truly special Christmas Eve. We'll be dining on a delicious venison roast this evening, then driving out to St. Timothy's for the Christmas Eve service. After the service, we're having an extended fellowship time, along with a Christmas toast. Then we'll all troop back up the mountain, joined by two more friends. We'll hang our stockings, watch Christmas movies, and eat yummy baked goods. Best of all, we'll all be surrounded by people we love. That's the best Christmas gift anyone could ask for.

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"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"