Photographs, for better and for worse

I’ve been thinking about time, and markers that show me time passing. For example, when my child gets to a certain stage in school and is doing the same things I remember doing, but doing them differently, I see technology as a marker of time. I made posters. This generation makes PowerPoint presentations.

Another marker just struck me. I have no engagement photos. Not one. Smartphones hadn’t been invented yet. Our engagement was a purely private event. I have many “photos” of it in my heart, but there was no one there to document it for us. Thinking about it, this makes me glad.

There’s something about photographs. I love them in many ways, but sometimes I find they step in and replace memories. The memory is intangible. It floats around inside you, bumping into other memories, feelings, passing time. It’s powerful and fragile. It’s so easy to look at a photo again and again, until you remember the photo, the way the event looked from the outside, instead of what you saw from the inside, living through it.

Memories can fade. A photograph can be more permanent. But it will also, always, be incomplete. A photograph could never document that I remember walking inches above the ground in the golden rain falling outside the cathedral where he asked for my heart and hand.

#MakersMonday: Reta Evens Simons

Today’s maker has been a storied presence in my life since before my memory began. She entered the world as a wheat-farmer’s daughter on the Canadian prairie, and she came south to Pennsylvania on the smallest of chances – her father said she could go to school in America if it rained at harvest time. Many years later, she wrote the story of her life, naming it for that rain.

My grandmother’s expressive face on the cover of her memoir.

After the rain, after a long journey by train and years of schooling and servanthood in America, she married my grandfather Keneth. My father was their first child.

I remember a photo of Reta on my grandfather’s desk. It was probably taken in her 40s or 50s, on a visit to her brothers who were still on the farm in Alberta. In the photo, she’s standing near the grain elevator, wearing a cotton blouse and skirt. Perhaps she held a hat, or a purse, but what I remember about the photo is her hands. They looked just like my father’s hands, larger than I expected, veined, strong and capable. Reta could do almost anything with those hands.

She taught herself patternless dressmaking. My parents have a beautiful photograph of her wearing a blue evening gown, exquisitely tailored, with a blue satin train, that she designed and sewed. Dad told us stories of a dress she dyed, carefully shading the color from a deep violet at the hem that faded by degrees until it was so pale it was almost white at the top. Imagine that shading process – what a good eye she had, and a steady hand.

Reta taught herself to paint, too. Everyone in the family has at least one of her oil paintings, or a water color. Here is mine.

We also have things Reta embroidered. I have two cushions with birds embroidered on them – currently packed away because the corgi does not share my respect for heirloom embroidery. Another piece she embroidered hung on the wall in my parents’ house. The quote, as it turns out, is originally attributed to a Quaker missionary. I saw it on our wall, in her graceful stitching, every day of my life. That made it hers.

“I shall pass this way but once; any good that I can do or any kindness I can show to any human being; let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”

Etienne de Grellet, QUAKER MISSIONARY

Farm girl that she was, Reta also had a way with little animals, and she raised more than one abandoned baby squirrel. Just this year, an aunt sent me an old home-movie clip, with no sound, of my grandmother playing with one of these babies. It struck me, watching it, that it’s the only time I’ve seen her alive, in motion, more like the person Dad remembered with such affection. Reta died of cancer just a few months after I was born.

But of all the things she made, my father was the best. Reta raised a good man, brilliant, kind, appreciative. Like her, he strove to do all the good he could. He never forgot he could live each day only once.

At Reta’s graveside, the presiding minister read the parable of the talents, ending with “Well done, good and faithful servant.” God bless her, entering into the joy of her Lord.

Robert Louis Stevenson: The Swing

This summer, my mother let me bring home a collection of old books that were my childhood favorites. Whenever I read them, I hear the words in her voice, and the spirit of many long-lost summer afternoons, piled around her on the couch with my little siblings, rises around me. I love that.

One I brought home is a well-worn copy of Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses. It appears to have been printed in 1932, so it was already old in my little-girlhood.

On a side note, I learned in adulthood that RLS is related to another favorite author of mine, D. E. Stevenson, who mentions him in several of her books. Her characters quote him sometimes, and his poems find their way into the subtext.

What I love about this poem is how well the rhythm of the verses mimics that of the activity they describe. They swing up into the sky, hang there for the tiniest fraction of a second, and swing back again. Your muscle memory will quickly join your voice, and you will find yourself reading the poem in your chair as if you were reading it on the swing. Up in the air and down!

The Swing

How do you like to go up in a swing,

Up in the air so blue?

Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing

Ever a child can do!

Up in the air and over the wall,

Till I can see so wide,

Rivers and trees and cattle and all

Over the countryside–

Till I look down on the garden green,

Down on the roof so brown–

Up in the air I go flying again,

Up in the air and down!

Robert Louis Stevenson

This poem must have been a favorite of Stevenson’s or his reading public, because both the cover of the book (above) and the frontispiece (below) are illustrated with a little girl on a swing, and The Swing is the first poem in the book!

I especially like this poem at a time when we are all, more or less, living inside the garden wall. Like the child on the swing, we may catch glimpses of the outer world, only to drop again behind the wall. But in this poem at least, there’s a garden within that wall, and the child on the swing is both excited by the wider vista and content to return to the confines of home.

Funny memory: A cow on the Oregon Trail

What a coincidence! I wrote this down four years ago and ran across it again this morning. Pretty sure many of us are feeling like this cow on the Oregon Trail!

Here’s my 9-year-old, discussing the perils of the Oregon Trail journey at dinner.
“Say this is a covered wagon.” (Picks up piece of biscuit and sets it on top of second piece of biscuit) “And this is the raft it’s floating on, on the river.”
Aligns a broccoli floweret with one end of the biscuit wagon-raft.
“This is the cow pulling it.”
Begins pulling the broccoli. “Mooooooooooooooooo.” (In a deep, cow voice.)
Pulls broccoli cow to edge of plate. Knocks it over the edge. “Good-bye cow.” (Grimace)
[Pause, in which the broccoli cow plops onto the “States of the US” placemat under the plate-river.]
“Hey” (Speaking once more in the deep cow voice) “I’m in Montana.”

My wish for you today is that if you do fall off the plate, you land somewhere lovely, like Montana!

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

In seventh grade, my English teacher required the class to memorize Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18.

Decades later, I still remember it.

What makes certain words last forever in my mind? Why do others, apparently more important, vanish minutes after they arrive?

When someone you love experiences Alzheimer’s disease, you ponder memory as you watch it disappear. It’s like an onion, many layered, and one by one the layers peel away. The first layers are at the core, and they last the longest. Our oldest memories, made when our brains and lives were fresh, remain with us when later life has disintegrated.

There are medical reasons for this, and I have read about them, a little. But I am not a scientist. I am a writer, always looking for the poetry of things. Everything is symbol, and symbol glimpses truth. I think we gaze into the heart of things in these glimpses. We can’t take in the entirety, so we must content ourselves with musing and pattern-seeking, waiting for the eventual gleam of light or the bright burst of insight.

Sonnet 18 remains with me because my brain was young when I encountered it. But that can’t be the only reason. What else did I learn in school that year? Ten months of curriculum framed that sonnet, and much of it is lost to me, or blurred, and if I remember it at all, I do so only when present-day context reminds me that I once knew something about it.

Love strengthens memory, I think. I love beauty. Real beauty. Deep, bright, lasting, shining things. I love words. I love them so much. I was seeking after beauty, even in seventh grade, and Sonnet 18 is beautiful. Lyrical, spiritual. Layered.

A friend of my sister’s sketched her in profile that year, or the year after. It was a good sketch. Her friend was talented. Finishing the sketch, across the top she wrote, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” in light, graceful script.

Someone (it may have been me) in the class began work on a parody of the sonnet. “Shall I compare thee to an Oldsmobile? Thou art more shiny, and more round of wheel.” I’m not sure this effort went any further. Fortunately.

Memory is part of the sonnet’s beauty now. I am not young now, and I am not old. I’m journeying through the years between those places, and I have shaken off much of the chaff in my inner world. I know what’s precious to me, then and now and some day, and I like to take it out and polish it. I like to say the words and hear them again, with their old associations and current perceptions.

I can still say this sonnet from memory. I will type it for you here.

Sonnet 18

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate.

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

and summer’s lease hath all too short a date.

Sometimes too hot the eye of heaven shines,

and often is his gold complexion dimmed.

And every fair from fair sometimes declines,

By chance or Nature’s changing course untrimmed.

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,

nor lose possession of that fair thou ownest.

Nor shall Death brag thou wanderest in his shade

when in eternal lines to time thou growest.

So long as men can breathe and eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Now I’ll look it up and measure my memory against the original. Here it is.

Sonnet 18 in the 1609 Quarto of Shakespeare’s Sonnets
By William Shakespearehttp://luna.folger.edu/luna/servlet/s/by2g21, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

It’s still mine. Punctuation and capital letters have faded here and there, but the Sonnet remains with me, as it promises to do.

What is your earliest memory of writing?

Once upon a time, when I was little, I went outdoors on a summer afternoon. I walked down the long driveway, from the backdoor of our yellow house, past the garden and the swingset, toward the garage. As I walked, I heard my own voice inside my head, telling the story of what I was doing. I knew the story stretched back to my beginning, and that I was just noticing it, not beginning it. I knew the story was happening still, and that it would keep on happening, as long as I kept on telling it.

That is my first memory of writing. At the time, I was only 4 or 5 years old. I wouldn’t have called it “writing” then, but when I follow the ribbon of my words all the way back, that moment is their anchor

Next, I recall a day in 4th or 5th grade when I decided to write a detective story. I wrote the title, The Mystery of the Golden Bell, across the top of the page and began on my story, scrawling along in pencil until I reached the end of the paper. I started on the next sheet, wondering what would happen next. And then it happened – the revelatory moment when I realized that if I was going to write the story, I had to know what was going to happen in the story! Alas, I had no idea what happened in the story, so The Mystery of the Golden Bell remains unsolved.

I’m interested in the beginnings of things, so I asked some friends to share their earliest memory of writing. I find the responses fascinating (also cute, funny, and characteristic).

My friend Katherine’s first memory is oddly appropriate to her later life. She’s a published author of a series called Crime with the Classics. I love that her earliest writing memory involves a “trial” with her mother playing counsel for the defense.

In sixth grade we were assigned to write a short story (possibly from a prompt, I don’t remember). The teacher accused me of having copied my story from a women’s magazine. My mother successfully defended me from this charge. I remember nothing about my story except that the main character was named Betty.

Katherine

I was struck by how many writing memories are connected to teachers. It’s a good reminder that writing is social: the activity itself may be solitary, but what is written is a communication, and sometimes we need help from mentors and friends to launch it into the world.

I remember in the 3rd grade my teacher trying to encourage me to enter a story that I wrote for a class assignment to a state writing contest. I was so nervous and scared that I told her I couldn’t send it in. After much encouragement, I agreed to let her mail it in.

About 3 months later, my teacher called me up to her desk before going outside for recess. All the kids had gone outside. She handed me a large manila envelope. As I opened it, a 1st place ribbon fell into my lap. I pulled out a spiral bound book. It was the stories of all the top 5 winners.

I remember just sitting there shocked. My teacher had a huge smile on her face, and she showed me a box of books that I had won for our school.

I couldn’t believe that I went from being this kindergartener who struggled with English and who saw a special teacher to help with reading writing, to a 3rd grader who won a state writing competition. It still makes me smile and warms my heart thinking about it.

Nancy

My third grade teacher taught us how to write poetry and arranged to have several of us read our poems on a local radio station. That was a thrilling experience for me and inspired a lot of poetry writing in my school years. Some of my poems were published in obscure little anthologies of children’s poetry. Funny, I’m not sure I even remember how to write poetry now.

Elizabeth

In first grade, our teacher had us do little writing assignments. But I don’t remember what I wrote. What I remember is that she wrote a poem about me being an author. Definitely changed my life.

Laura

The 5th grade teacher would give us lists of spelling words to use in sentences. I made the sentences into a story.

The 6th grade teacher asked, “Have you ever heard the term ‘stream of consciousness’? That’s what you’re writing.”

Frederica

In addition to helping build good writers, good teachers make good teachers! Check out this memory!

[My first memory is of] Learning to write in Kindergarten. We had these 10×10 (?) Letter books with tactile glitter letters on the front (one book per letter). I also remember Phonics workbooks and spelling tests. 😂 Creative writing memories are mostly from 6th grade because I think we actually had creative writing time with my teacher. I teamed up with a classmate and we wrote a “scary” story that was shared at the end of the year writing celebration. This is one reason why I loved doing writers notebooks with my 6th graders when I taught ELA. Drop everything and write days. It was the first chance in school they were ever told to write whatever they wanted to write! For some it was a challenge and they needed prompts. For others, they thrived in being able to express their thoughts and ideas. Otherwise quiet or class clown kids let their creativity shine!

Irene

This next made me chuckle. It’s from one of our #Blogtown friends, Elzabeta at God Has Promised.

I wrote a series of interviews with Garfield the Cat. A lot of lasagna was spilled. I also wrote my own sequel to The Empire Strikes Back because George Lucas was taking too long.

Elzabeta

George Lucas was taking too long! 😀

Here’s another early writer with her eyes on Hollywood.

In second grade I wrote Charlie’s Angels FAN-FICTION on construction paper in crayon. I think. Now I’m starting to doubt my memory. I definitely wrote SOMETHING in crayon and folded the construction paper into a ‘book’.

Cynthia

There were so many stories shared that there isn’t room for all of them in this post, so I’ll close with this one, which I love because it resonates with my own, deep, early memories of STORY – the core of all meaning and beauty in my world.

Well, I remember in kindergarten, we were all writing stories about sea creatures–but I was incredibly frustrated, because my teacher wouldn’t let me write it down myself, instead insisting on taking my dictation. Certain other classmates with neater handwriting were allowed to write their own, and I felt it was a great injustice. (The story itself was about a sea urchin, which I liked because they were purple, and was quite inane.)

My first memory of storytelling, however, was before that, a collaboration between myself and a truly remarkable babysitter (also Orthodox). My backyard was transformed into a magical realm, with each landmark being given Anne of Green Gables-style names, and C. S. Lewis-like cosmological significance. My dolls were central characters, of course, and were joined by several more who were portrayed by her and by myself at various points in the story. Together, with the aid of my trusty slingshot, we worked our way through rising tension, the apocalypse, and even into the Age to Come. If I ever write a story that feels as beautiful and exciting as that one did to me then, and does still despite my forgetfulness of the particulars, I will be well-pleased.

Elizabeth

Close to God in Nature

Lights on the Mountain: A Novel by Cheryl Anne TuggleThis week, I ran a giveaway on my Facebook page, featuring a novel called Lights on the Mountain (Paraclete Press 2019). My friend Cheryl Anne Tuggle wrote it, and it’s beautiful. To enter the giveaway, I asked people to comment with a time they’d felt close to God in nature. It’s a theme in the novel, beginning with an experience the main character has in the first chapter that changes his life. (Find out what and why! Get a copy here.)

The comments were beautiful! I don’t want them to scroll away into the land of yesterday’s news feed. So I’m gathering them up and sharing them here.

“Comment with a Time You Felt Close to God in Nature”

Sarah Frye Gingrich: It was one our last nights in Chile as missionaries, and we were camping on a local island with youth for a retreat. As night fell the bay began to glow where the lapping waves hit the shore. Bioluminescent plankton. We donned our suits and ran into the water, wherever we moved there was green light. I lay back and kicked through the light, staring up at bright stars against the endless black. I felt that God is both beyond and nearer than my breath.

Rebecca Stasia Braswell: Rain. Stick with me, a moment. I grew up in the San Joaquin valley in California, which produces about 80% of the country’s produce and goods on approx 12 inches of rain a year. I love, love, love rain. It still has that childlike marvel attached to it, even as an adult who sees a lot more rain. When thunder rolls and crashes, I’m reminded of a powerful, sovereign God that sends good to the just, and thankfully for me, to the unjust alike.

Nancy Athanasia Parcels: I was 15 years old and experiencing some pretty serious health issues, my family and I were in Greece. I was hiking in Crete on a mountain and came across this amazing view of the ocean. I sat down with the sun on my skin, wind in my hair and smelling the ocean. I was praying to God to heal me. I then sat there with my eyes closed just listening to nature. I felt a hand on my shoulder I turned and no one was there. I closed my eyes again and I am pretty sure I heard God tell me that everything was going to be alright. A few months later I was back in the States and with a clean bill of health.

I felt so close to God at that moment. I felt uplifted, loved and beyond grateful for this life.

Christine Rogers: The Northern Lights!

Elina Pelikan: My youth living by the sea.. sweatshirt and jeans and a journal on a cliff alone with the enormity of the ocean… sometimes I would bring my guitar and belt the church songs into the wind and waves…. sometimes I would just sit and scribble nonsense and breathe in the salty air and seaspray.

I love to soak in His presence in a beautiful church, but sitting with Him in a forest or by the water brings another experience that is rich and nourishing.

Christina Bournelis Blankenstein: Anytime that I’m at the Oregon coast- especially if I wake up early enough in the morning and I’m at scout camp. So, surrounded by trees,looking out at the ocean. I feel as if I have entered a small piece of the heavenly kingdom!

Sian Williams: I live close enough to the sea to be able to hear the crash of waves at high tide on a quiet still night if I go outside. Always moves me to tears and to prayer.

Sarah Brangwynne: Gardening and Spring. I am always amazed at the beauty of trees and plants coming to life after a period of dormancy and looking pretty dead all winter.

Rachel Stevens: My grandparents own 20 acres in VA. On that 20 acres they have a pond. As a teenager I sit on a concrete bench next to the pond with a journal in hand. I also loved riding their horse around alone too. So peaceful and easy to pray 🙂

Abby Kreckel: As a teenager, I would sneak into my empty but unlocked childhood parish and sit on the floor in the dark, singing hymns and hearing them echo around the dark space.

Katherine Bolger Hyde: At the first Orthodox Writers Week at the Beach, I walked on the beach each morning and was filled with a holy joy. This is only one of many times I have felt close to God in nature. “The world is shot through with the grandeur of God” (G. M. Hopkins).

Kristina Michelle: Nature has been a huge part of my life. I was fortunate that my parents made sure we were out and about in the forest every week. One summer I drove an hour each way on the prairie every day for work. That consistent, great amount of time watching the prairie and listening to Christian music (I’d never even heard of Orthodoxy at that point!) created a deep peace throughout the entire summer.

Vassi M Haros: I still remember it like it was yesterday. I was just a kid… staring at the clouds as they floated by. It was so peaceful to not be aware or influenced by the people or things around me. It was just me and God.

Sandra Glisic: The time that I felt most close to God in nature was one spring day where I picked up a book and sat on the grass by the lake on monastery grounds to read. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to my book because the picture in front of me was truly a book on its own. The birds were chirping, the water peacefully moving, the trees rustled from the wind, flowers were slowly growing and the wind brought freshness into everything including me. I realized at that moment what it means for life to renew and resurrect and I realized at that moment how wonderful God truly is and how amazing are all the things He created. And most of all, how amazing was it that He blesses us all with that and me in that moment.

Anastasia Dimassis-Benbow: Not one specific time… But every time I’m going through something, and I realize I haven’t touched God’s “home plate“ in a while, I sit by the water. I close my eyes and feel the sun on my face, the wind in my hair, and the sound of the shore. I can literally feel God wrap his arms around me, and I leave with a renewed sense of strength, love, and pure hope. ❤️

 

Photo by Greg Nunes on Unsplash

First Best Christmas Memory

Candles lit behind a small white house ornament and a pinecone on a table

Mine is the year I played Archangel Gabriel in the neighborhood Christmas Tableaux my mother hosted in our livingroom. I wore the flower-girl dress from her wedding – it was long and white, sleeveless, with a band of gold ribbon around the empire waist and daisies on the bodice and in a strip around the hem. My halo was a scratchy golden band of decorative fabric trim, and my mother made a sheer lemon yellow cape with holes for my hands to slip through that I wore like wings. I remember being coached to hold up my arms when I appeared to Mary, who wore my mother’s blue house coat and a soft white scarf on her little red head. She sat on the flagstone floor of the front hall, stirring imaginary bread dough with a wooden spoon in a ceramic bowl, and I came down the front stairs to appear before her. Our friends took the parts of Joseph, the shepherds, and the wisemen, and my baby doll played the most important role of all, wrapped in a white sheet and sleeping gently on a bed of hay in the wicker laundry basket.

Christmas memories have been part of my writing life this year as I finish work on The Barn and the Book, the next in the Sam and Saucer series. It’s a Christmas story about a boy named Sam, his corgi friend Saucer, some nuns, and the children who play together at the monastery after church. Sam is hunting a Christmas memory of a kind in this story, and as I look forward to the book’s release this fall, I decided to ask some friends about their childhood Christmases.

What is your first best Christmas memory?

That was the question, and the answers were as various and colorful as the people I asked. Although the usual themes appear – family, food, wishes – there’s a plot twist in every one of these stories. I love to be reminded that all of life is unexpected, complex, personal, and interesting.

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“I remember my Mom bringing my new baby brother home in a Christmas stocking. ” – Adriane Adams

“I remember most of my 2nd Christmas morning. I remember coming downstairs. I remember discovering presents and my parents’ excitement.” – Elizabeth Calder

“I was the Star of Bethlehem in the Christmas pageant when I was ~5ish. I shone. I beamed. (The big kids and my older sisters got to be the angel choir, because they could read lyrics, and at first I was jealous of them.) Proudest moment of my first 10 years.” – Cynthia Long

“The Anglicans have a tradition of starting Christmas Eve with “Once in Royal David’s City,” with the first verse being sung solo by a boy soprano/treble. When I finally got the chance to do it, that was a real highlight.” – Jonathan Hill, Orthodox Theology of the Beautiful

I was adopted at Christmas, brought home on Christmas Eve when my older sisters were sleeping. My parents put me in a little Moses basket type thing under the tree. My middle sister spent the next many months at least ABSOLUTELY BELIEVING that Santa had granted her wish and brought a baby sister JUST for her! Obviously, I don’t remember this actually happening, but my family still breaks out the picture and story every year.” – Maria Powell

“Christmas for me always meant my dad taking my brother and I to ToysR’Us. He was (still is) a workaholic, and while he loved us very much, he missed a lot. But on that evening, he would go, and we would walk up and down. Every. Aisle. And he had this big yellow legal pad, and he’d write down Every Single Item we said we liked or that we wanted (along with the price). It sounds materialistic, but this was uninterrupted time with our dad, where we could talk about our likes and dislikes, and our interests. Afterwards, we would sit and write out stars (or sometimes lots of stars) next to things we wanted the most, or cross items off we decided we didn’t really want. We never got everything (I can only imagine what that would have cost! Ha!), but that time is very cherished. I don’t know that that is my earliest memory, but it is my strongest Christmas memory. I have other flashes of memories of going to my grandparents’ across the state, or big potluck dinners with extended family that I didn’t really know (There were always Swedish Meatballs! We have a strong Scandinavian heritage.), and I remember the person who hosted those had swinging doors into her kitchen like an old wild west saloon, and I thought that was pretty spectacular. I remember it was my “job” to put up the nativity display, and how seriously I took that. And I remember making cookies out of our old Swedish cookbook. But mostly, I looked forward to that time with my Dad.” – Kira Miller

My mom making waffle sundaes and huevos rancheros on Christmas morning with tamales from a relative on the table, too. I make these things now for my kids, and it means even more after fasting!” – Jessica Archuleta, Every Home a Monastery

“We were at a GIANT family party, and my brothers and two male cousins locked me in a closet, and nobody noticed until I wasn’t there to open gifts. It all ended well! My brothers and cousins had to give me their candy.” – Melissa Elizabeth Naasko

“My earliest Christmas memory is my first memory, period. It is not in English. It was my first Christmas in Guatemala, where my parents were Mennonite missionaries. I would have just turned 3. We invited our friends (and my parents’ house/grounds helpers) Pablo and Erxlinda and their little son Julio to join us. We were eating fresh corn tortillas, called “gua” in Q’eqchi’, the Mayan dialect of the region. (Incidentally, “gua” doubles as the word for food, “gua’ac'” is the verb “to eat,” and if some day you haven’t had “gua,” that is, tortillas, you haven’t eaten at all regardless of what else you’ve eaten that day. Corn is very important to the diet of the region, especially corn tortillas. But I digress…)

My memory is of my parents asking Julio (I think he was 1.5 or 2 at the time) if his “gua” was good (“Ma’ sa li gua?”) to which he answered a hearty and enthusiastic, “Sa, PUES!” (of COURSE it’s good!) And everyone laughed.

So yeah, my memory has nothing to do with Christmas or Christ’s birth, but all the same, I’m delighted that it is my first memory. I was so very blessed to be allowed to grow up in a convergence of cultures, and although my Q’eqchi’ is dormant (it comes back to life when I’m in Guatemala again for a few days), I’m so very glad that my first memory is in that language. ” – Kristina Wenger

“When I was 5 my older brother ruined the secret of Santa for me on Christmas Eve. So my dad started a new tradition of me getting a surprise gift from Elvis instead.” Jill Wojslaw, @TheseParents

“My Aunt Jesse sending us a big box of See’s candy from Pasadena, California each year. We would sneak into it and eat a candy each day, take out the tell-tale wrapper, and wrap up the box again. By Christmas, the 5-pound box of candies probably weighed about a pound.” – Cheri Mullins

“My dad died when I was young, leaving my mom with 5 kids under 7. It was always a struggle financially, but one Christmas, the living room was filled with bicycles – one for each of us! We saw my mom wheeling them over on Christmas Eve – my neighbor stored them in his garage.” – Matushka Wendy

I remember as a very young girl, going to bed that evening: no tree up yet, no cookies in sight, nothing near ‘Christmas’ ready; when we woke, early the next morning, there would be the tree! the lights! the neatly wrapped presents! cookies! and the aroma of coffee brewing! Amid the torn wrapping paper, we’d play for hours with our new dolls, blocks, and games; our mom always took a nap on the couch nearby. As I got older, my mother’s amazing Christmas cutout (anise) cookie recipe with the royal icing and all were handed down to me; now years later, that recipe is handed down to my 2 daughters. They know how to make them as well as my mother and I once did together. We make so many for gifts to share for our neighbors and friends; family. This year we had a slight emergency with our youngest boy; I was just about to make these cookies (they’re time consuming, too) when an accident happened at home that sent us straight to the emergency room; resulted in a 3-day stay in the hospital. My husband and I brought our boy home Christmas eve; the house was clean and cookies all baked and decorated! Of course, I cried.” – Kelleylynn Barberg

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Next time you’re sitting in traffic, choosing apples at the farmer’s market, or waiting for hours at the DMV, look at the people around you and realize anew that every one of them holds a full set of memories, as you do, and a story full of plot twists. Each of us is a mystery. Glory to God!

 

-Photo by Sweta Meininger on Unsplash

Memories of God

When you convert to a new faith, you leave everything behind. You are not a refugee, with $200 and two pieces of luggage. You weren’t forced to leave a country you love. You chose to leave a country you could no longer love. You are gone.

No doubt, everyone’s conversion is different. Life has taught me, in hundreds of big and little ways, that people are like snowflakes – there really are not EVER any two exactly alike. So I won’t speak for your conversion, or their conversion, or any other conversion but mine.

Conversion never ends. At first, it’s a decision. There’s a long road to the decision, and a long road away from it. You can’t see ahead on this road. You can only see the two footprint-sized parts of the road you are standing on right now, this minute.

My piece of road right now is about memories. Hymn fragments, remembered feelings. I thought I had left everything behind, and at first, this was true. But life flowed on around and through me, and now I discover the pieces of my faith that belonged to me then and are still with me now.

Is this possible? If it is, it has nothing to do with dogma or canon. It’s the fact that God does not wait for us to check the right box and join the right group before He decides to get in touch.

Was He always there? I remember asking my priest, after my conversion, “Who am I talking to when I pray now? Is it still the same God I was talking to before?” I wasn’t sure then, but now, I am.

Sometimes, time is like water. You wash something in this water, and it comes clear. At first, I didn’t want to love anything from my pre-Orthodox spiritual life. I was too concerned with building this new faith life, and I didn’t want to contaminate it.

But now, time has washed my heart, and I can see patches of gold in those old shadows. My longing for them now is not unlike my need for them then. They can still belong to me. They can still comfort me.

Wherever I find it, light is light.

 

-Photo by John Jennings on Unsplash