God-incidence, Wow, and Thanks

I had the most amazing experience yesterday - a God-incidence.

My co-worker, Todd, has been here for about a year. He's a very genial man, almost courtly and I've enjoyed every encounter I've had with him. He has spent most of his life working in the State Department and traveling, but he and his family decided to come "home" to Grand Rapids.

Yesterday, Todd came to me with a tiny, battered, red leather address book that he said he purchased in 1970. He was going through it in order to check addresses for holiday greetings.

He said, "Your name is in here, in my wife's handwriting, and then again in mine."

I looked, and sure enough, it was our old address - 25+ years ago.

I was baffled. "Todd, I don't think we've ever met before, have we?"

He said he didn't think so, but there was my name. What was the connection?

We started going through our mental warehouse - where were we 25 years ago? He was at Calvin College, I was teaching and in grad school...

I stopped. "What's your wife's name?"

"Vickie."

Suddenly the name, the handwriting, the places - everything clicked.

"Todd, your wife was my German tutor when I was in grad school."

Mystery solved.

Vickie had been my German tutor. She and Todd were both students at Calvin and Vickie is originally from Germany.

We both ended up adopting - they have three, we have five. Last night was our staff Christmas party, and there was the beautiful Vickie, with her gorgeous accent, just like I remember. We had so much fun studying together: both newly married, in grad school, serious Christians. So many good discussions...and last night, we got to pick up our talk, 25+ years later.

Thank you, God. You are good.

Monday Morning Musings

1. I feel like Buddy the Elf this morning: "SANTA!!"
2. Enjoyed a lovely production of "The Nutcracker" yesterday with my sister, my daughter, a niece and grand-niece. What a lovely holiday outing. (Even though I think nutcrackers are creepy. Clown-creepy. Icky.)
3. One of my nephews just bought a home in Florida: oh, Andy...guess who's coming to visit?
4. Excited for the New Year. I'm seeing a lot of building projects around West Michigan, which you couldn't have found with a GPS a few years ago. I think the economy is getting its feet under it.
5. Plus: wedding! Two weddings! My daughter is getting married, and one of my dearest friend's daughter's just got engaged. I think I'll be on Pinterest overload.
6. Getting ready for the big sing marathon that is Christmas Eve Mass. Our priest has a deep and abiding love for incense, so it's always fun to see how the allergies will react. And by fun, I mean: load your pockets with Kleenex and pray for the best.

I don't want to say I'm a Scrooge, but....

All of us have certain things about the Christmas season we don't...well, "enjoy" as much as we think we're supposed to. Like wrapping gifts. That's why God made gift bags, right?

So, in the joy of the season, here is what I Hate About Christmas:

  • Fruitcake. I think this makes the top of everyone's list, doesn't it? Except for my mother. She likes it. It may be her only flaw.
  • The 12 Days of Christmas. No. Just. Stop. Singing. That.
  • The Martha Stewart Effect. This is the phenomenon wherein you must have decorated every square inch of your home in coordinating colors, have a plate of cookies fresh from the oven at every given moment, and have made a gingerbread mansion that lights up from the inside that you made your very own little self. Two words: Dollar Store.
  • Joy To The World. I'm probably gonna get chewed up and spit out on this one, but hear me out. I have cantored every Midnight Mass for the past decade. By the time we get to the final hymn, Joy To The World, I have no voice. I just want to be done. It's like a marathon for singers. It's a beautiful hymn, but I can usually manage to just croak it out.
  • People who get twisted up about "Happy Holidays." It's ok. Breathe. Smile. Say "thank you." Christmas spirit, people!
  • Feeling like you have to do EVERYthing in order to give your kids that "perfect" Christmas. When you have little ones, you've got to do a Jesse Tree, and Elf on a Shelf, and an Advent wreath, and an  Advent Calendar, and homemade ornaments, and....
  • Stuff. So much stuff. Just for the sake of having a ton of stuff under the tree. Stuff no one really needs. Stuff.
Here is what I do like about Christmas. A baby, sleeping in his mother's arms, with angels peering down in awe. Emmanuel. I like that about Christmas.

Monday Morning Musings...although it's Monday afternoon...

Yeah. I'm a little behind today.
1. Monday: the day you bring a container of sour cream to work for breakfast instead of yogurt.
2. Monday: the day your beloved daughter tells you how pretty you look in your black and white outfit: "Just like that lady from 101 Dalmatians!"
3. My dear sister (who is coming  home to the Church after being away for years) stopped by after Mass on Saturday evening. "Father was wearing pink!" I said, "No, he was wearing rose." She responded, "That's what he said!" Ah, the joys of the liturgical year!
4. Creeping closer to book publication. Oh, the details! Next time, I'm getting a staff to do the scut work.
5. No White Christmas. I'm pretty bummed. I love the snow.
6. The city of Grand Rapids has apparently gone to great time and expense to build large candles throughout the city. Nice idea in theory. In practice, they look like 8th grade projects gone awry.
7. Hey! I get to do a TEDx talk! Whoot!
8. Wow. I could really use some down time, where I don't have to think about anything. By a pool. With lots of drinks with umbrellas in them. A girl can dream....

Going to the State Capitol and meeting my dad

I had kind of a big day yesterday - for me at least. I went to our state Capitol and interviewed the State Attorney General. He and a commission released a report on human trafficking last year, and I was able to snag a few minutes of his time to interview him regarding that.

The AG and I happen to be from the same area. I mentioned that, and he asked where I grew up. I told him Coleman (which is a tiny town). He asked me what street I lived on. I said, "Oh, I grew up about 5 miles outside of town, on MaGruder Road."

"Oh, I know MaGruder Road. Did you have a farm?"

No, I told him. We had a lot of land, but not a farm.

He paused for a minute, then asked for my maiden name. I told him Graveline.

"Oh, I knew a Graveline. John...."

"John was my dad."

The AG went on to say he had worked with my dad on a committee or two (Dad was a big volunteer) and that he knew my dad from his work in managing a small plastics plant the next town over.

"John was a good man."

Yes. He was.

My dad passed away 7-1/2 years ago. I miss him everyday. But what a great testament to him, that all these years later, the State Attorney General was able to say to me, "He was a good man."

Indeed.

Monday Morning Musings

The Immaculate Conception; unknown artist. 18th century Guatemala
1. Wowza! I get to interview our State Attorney General today. I'm so excited. Hoping this will be the finishing touch on my monograph.
2. Speaking of the monograph, I spent THREE DAYS formatting the stupid thing. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know: I should be thankful I had a computer and not a typewriter. But still.
3. Today's joy is brought to you by the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Now, here's something I did not know: this feast is never abrograted (that, is we never get to skip it if it falls on a Saturday or Monday) because the bishops of the US have placed us under the protection of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception.
4. Our priest always gives excellent sermons. Yesterday, he preached not on the Gospel, but on the Psalm (which was 85, in case you don't remember). Love and truth will meet; justice and peace will kiss. He talked about how this describes Jesus, the God-Man. He comes to us as God/Truth, but also fully human/Love. What a wonderful meditation!
5. My cat has decided to lay across my lower legs. I'll see how long it takes for the circulation to get cut off.

A poem to ponder

artist Gillian Lawson
I love the Nativity. I love Nativity sets. It's always been my favorite part of the Advent and Christmas seasons.

It was my "job" as a child to set up the manger scene. For me, it was a bit like playing with a doll house, only with Baby Jesus. Where exactly should the cattle be? What about the sheep? I think the sheep should be close to the Baby.

My parents' Nativity set was  purchased just after they were married in 1947, at a five and dime. (If you're too young to know what a five and dime is, it's the equivalent to today's dollar stores.) Some of the figurines still have faint pencil markings on the bottom: 10 cents, a nickel.

We actually don't know many details about the Nativity. If the inns were full due to the census, that means there must have been a lot of women in Bethlehem. Some of them must have caught wind that some poor dear had given birth in the barn. They must have rushed to help: a few soft cloths to wrap the baby in, some hot food, checking in to see if the New Mother needed anything.

The Nativity scene for me is a rich one for meditation. Apparently, G.K. Chesterton felt the same way. He wrote a poem, The House of Christmas; here is one stanza:

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost – how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.

Spinning yarns and random thoughts

Just a few random thoughts today...

As my mom would say, "That damn game should be outlawed!" With the death of the Ohio State football player this past weekend, it highlights again the tragedy of head trauma in the game.

Once again, we're seeing this hysteria about yelling "Merry Christmas!" at some poor store clerk who's just wished us "Happy Holidays." Chill, people. There are indeed multiple holidays, even if you're a Christian, this time of year. No one likes a nasty Christian. (And in fact, if you're nasty, are you really a Christian.....?)

Those stupid FB quizzes...I'm a sucker for 'em. I really do want to know which Sandra Bullock character I really am, what gem I am, what movie quote best describes my life, and how old I'm going to be when I die. Time suckers, yes, but oh-so-entertaining.

Advent. Let's stick with it. It's a good plan. The Church knows what she's doing when she says, "Wait." It's not just about teaching patience (although that's nice), it's about preparing. Getting ready. Taking time to pray and contemplate. Most of us take more time getting ready to go to a movie than we do preparing for Christ the King.

And speaking of which - great Advent prayer from Henri Nouwen:

Lord Jesus, Master of both the light and the darkness,
send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas.
We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day.
We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us.
We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom.
We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence.
We are your people,
walking in darkness,
yet seeking the light.
To you we say, “Come Lord Jesus!”

Monday Morning Musings

Well, things have been crazy! I'm gonna try to write more here, especially during Advent.

1. It's Advent. How can I stop the onslaught of Christmas music?? It's everywhere. I'm not trying to be a Scrooge, but NOT YET, people, NOT YET.
2. A friend lost his 8-year-old son to cancer last night. My heart is heavy for him and his family. Please pray for them.
3. Praying for another friend who is struggling with addiction. She has yet to admit it. Praying very hard that she reaches out for help.
4. Had a lovely Thanksgiving with lots of nieces and nephews and grand-nieces and -nephews. I think my favorite part was watching my 6'5" bearded Tallest Son talk at great length with my petite and lovely 13-year-old grand niece about books and music.
5. Our parish priest is Vietnamese. His female relatives made TONS of egg rolls and crab ragoons for a parish fundraiser. It was rather fun to see people eating egg rolls after Mass yesterday, rather than cookies!

Into the Foggy Dew

If you've ever driven through a thick fog, you know what fear is. You can't see anything. You're not sure if you're stil...