Winter vs. spring

One day last month, I contemplated the coldest season of the year, and my thoughts turned as icy as the sidewalk in front of me.

The City’s snow emergency rules had given me whiplash: “Because of the storm, park on the even side of the street now, the odd side tomorrow, and the even side again the next day—but wait! Because of the snowfall totals and narrowing of the streets, let’s now only park on the odd side until April 2—or until further notice. But hold on! Here comes a fresh dumping of snow, so let’s go back to the normal snow emergency rules for a few days—even, odd, even—and then we’ll resume the only-park-on-the-odd-side-until-the-spring-thaw rule, okay?”

It wasn’t the City’s fault. What else could they do? The weather had forced every last one of us into the competition of Winter vs. the Minnesotans. I grabbed my shovel, hoping for victory.

“Be sure not to park on the even side,” Husband said to one of the teenagers after another of the City’s snow emergency declarations.

But life is full and far too distracting for kids these days, so her dad’s warning fled my girl’s mind as she parked on the even side of the street the next day at school. A tow truck whisked her car away to an impound lot faster than she could say, “Dad, I need a new scraper. Mine broke.”

She texted me. My car got towed.

I sighed. Oh no... What are you going to do?

Use my feminine wiles to get it back.

My laugh startled the dog. Good luck!

Thirty minutes passed. My phone pinged.

Mom, can you transfer $150.00 from my savings into my checking?

Winter vs. the teenager. Winter won.

 

One night recently, I let Lala, our dog, out into the back yard to visit the facilities. She trotted down our brick walk, pointed in the direction of the garage. The motion sensor light flicked on, its brightness glancing off a miniature skating rink on her path. Of course she would see it, wouldn’t she? Dogs were smart that way. Instead, she hit it just right and slid, her four legs slipping out from under her. She toppled onto her side. Uh-oh. She wriggled to standing, did her business, and headed back toward the house. But her paws caught the same icy patch, and down went our sturdy girl—again.  

Back in the house, Lala chose the treat I offered her over my condolences. As usual, she was fur-wrapped exuberance—and unhurt—but my tolerance for winter plummeted to zero. If our four-legged loved one with a low center of gravity could lose her footing just like that, what hope was there for the rest of us?

Winter vs. the dog. Winter won.

 

“What were the newscasters calling this winter again?” I asked Husband two nights ago.

He scrolled through Hulu selections. “The winter of my discontent?”

“I mean, it was record-breaking, and the biggest snowfall since when?”

He landed on a show. “Who can know.”

I pulled myself out of hibernation mode to do some searching and found the National Weather Service’s claims. The Twin Cities received thirty-nine inches of snow in February 2019, breaking the previous record of twenty-six-and-a-half inches, set in 1962.

So much to melt away; so little patience for it all to go.

“It’s spring tomorrow, though,” I said, hoping to cheer myself, “so this should all be over, right?”

Husband clicked pause. “I hear there’s snow coming on April 2, but what do they know?”

I harrumphed. Maybe it wouldn’t materialize. Or maybe it would. Either way, when it was winter vs. spring, it was easy to choose a side. And I wouldn’t stop cheering until it was over.

shoveling-17328_640.jpg

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

Love (again)

Dicka was sick this week. While I changed her sheets, I found two photo albums by her bed—the ones with pictures of all the little ones we hosted through Safe Families for Children. The books are for us only, and we protect the images of those faces like we protect their lives while they stay with us.

I flipped through the pages, and my heart squeezed again. Here’s a story I wrote, first published here on the blog on January 21, 2016, about one of our twenty-eight loves.

*****

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things, there is no law.

 

I pulled the Honda up to the curb in front of Healing House. For the protection of the women who were enrolled and living there with their children, the address of the place was unpublished. I glanced at the placement information I had received in the Urgent Needs email. Mona, the woman I had come to meet—the biological mother—had gotten in a fight with another woman and was being kicked out of Healing House’s eighteen-month program. And now she needed coverage for her baby girl for one week while she found other living arrangements for the two of them.

I climbed out of the vehicle, glancing at the infant car seat in the back, knowing it would soon carry an eight-month-old passenger. I strode to the front entrance and pressed the buzzer.

A young woman came to the door. “Are you the host mom from Safe Families for Children?”

“Yes, I am. Are you Mona?”

She nodded, a shy smile playing on her lips, and motioned for me to follow her. “I already have her things packed for you. I hope it’s enough.”

On the floor next to the front desk sat several brimming garbage bags and numerous pieces of baby equipment. Our family had served kids who owned very little, and the five-month-old twins had come to our home with only the clothes on their bodies, a few diapers, and enough formula to get us through the first night. The sight of the large amount of baggage in front of me pricked my heart. “It’s more than enough.”

“Wanna see Adele now?” Mona’s eyes shone.

We walked down a long hallway to a sunny nursery. A childcare worker bounced a baby on her hip and handed a toy to a toddler who tugged on her shirt. When we stepped inside the room, the woman brought the baby to us.

“She’s darling.” I reached out for Adele and took her into my arms. She smiled at me, and so did Mona.

I gave her back to her mother for our walk out to my car. Mona buckled her baby into the car seat, kissing her first on the forehead and then once on each cheek. She closed the door and turned to me.

“Thank you.” Her words, warm with untold stories, lit her face.

I touched her sleeve. “I’m happy to help, Mona.”

 

Later that day, after dinner and playtime with Adele, it was time to say goodnight. I whisked her away from my girls, and they followed me into the guest room. They poked through the clothing bags, oohing and aahing over the tiny dresses.

I made funny faces at the baby while I changed her diaper. “Can one of you find something for her to wear to bed?”

Flicka handed me a pair of pajamas, and Ricka chose Adele’s outfit for the next day.

Dicka pulled something square and flat from one of the bags. “Mom, look. This was in there with the clothes.”

A Baby’s First Year calendar. I remembered recording the tender details of my babies’ first years in calendars like this one. And like Mona, I had captured all the firsts too—the first tooth, the first time sleeping through the night, the first step.

Dicka settled onto the guest bed and flipped through the calendar’s pages. After I zipped Adele into the fuzzy pajamas, I sat down too, snuggling the baby on my lap. I gazed at the document in Dicka’s hands as if it were a priceless artifact. Because it was.

Mona had chronicled Adele’s birth and filled in the family tree. Then in more blanks designated for the baby, she had instead written about Adele’s father, telling the story of how they had first met when he moved onto her block—just a few houses down from hers—one summer. As the warm winds swept in that July, so had their love, and the two were inseparable. He was her Once-in-a-Lifetime, a good man, and she was proud of him—and Adele would be too one day. Though her words were cheery, pain lived in the spaces between Mona’s sentences.

I drew in a deep breath and exhaled. “We should put this away.”

Dicka nodded, closing the calendar and tucking it back in with the clothing.

 

The days with Adele fluttered by, and she spent her waking hours glued to Dicka’s hip.

“You can let her have some floor time, honey,” I called from the kitchen while I made dinner one night. “It would be good for her.”

“No, that’s okay,” Dicka hollered back. “I don’t mind.”

 

At the end of the week, I met Mona again.

“We looked at the calendar you packed with Adele’s clothes.” I deposited the baby into her arms. “I hope that was okay.”

“Yeah.” She beamed, her eyes sparking with life.   

 

I remembered the other mothers we had served during our time as a host family. All of them had bigger dreams for their kids. All of them were brave. And all of them had the kind of love that could let a baby go to strangers for a while because of something better in the end.

But memories of Mona rose above the rest. Her words, bleeding out beauty on the page for her daughter to one day read, marked me and reminded me that in her life—as in mine—love had come first.

It always comes first.   

booties-2047596_640.jpg

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

Future window

“Future window”

The man scrawled the two words in pen on the plywood on the west wall of the mud room that day in 2000 before the workers hung the drywall in his new house. Ever a visionary, he lived for the future. No “Possible window” or even “Window?” for him.

The man oversaw the details of his house’s construction, making his mark in other ways too before the paint dried. But he died in 2006, and his widow lived by herself in the house, unaware of his intentions inked on wood underneath the wall’s layers.

Even though she was alone, the woman loved the house she and her husband had built together. And she delighted in the rural property surrounding their home. She gardened all summer long, planting, weeding, and tidying flower beds and vegetable plots during the day. No enjoyment could take place outside after dark in northern Minnesota, though—the ravenous mosquitoes would see to that. If she were to linger in the evening air with the chirping crickets or freshly-cut grass, she would need to do it in a screened-in tent. And so she bought one.

Soon, a storm destroyed her tent. She purchased a second one. Strong winds tore it from her yard. She bought a third one. But this time too, the weather stole it away.

She voiced her problem to her adult children.

“Mom, you should build a sunroom,” one of them suggested.

“A sunroom,” she said. “What a good idea.”

With the help of her children, the woman determined the ideal placement for the room. She would build it, facing west—just off the mud room.

One day in the spring of 2011, contractors cut through the wall of her house. The noise ceased for a minute, and one of the men called out to her.

“Come here. You’ve gotta see this,” he said.

The woman hurried to the demolition site. The workman pointed to a board, once hidden away beneath the sheetrock. On it were written two words.

“‘Future window.’” She splayed a hand on her chest. “That’s his writing.”

How could it be that her husband’s dream of a window eleven years earlier matched her dream of windows too—in the same spot?

The days passed, though, and the woman forgot all about her husband’s writing. The crew worked for several months, erecting walls, pounding nails, installing fourteen large windows and a glass door, and painting the room a pale green. That fall, the woman’s brother, son, and son-in-law laid the bamboo floor. The sunroom was done.

In early 2012, the woman eyed the temporary steps going out of the sunroom to the yard—stairs that remained from the project. They could have stayed, but she had a better idea.

“Let’s build a deck off the sunroom,” she said.

The workers ripped off the old steps, and in their place, began building a deck that would branch out beyond her new room of many windows.

One day, the woman remembered the piece of wood with the two words.

“Whatever happened to that board my husband wrote on?” she asked a worker.

“I think we used it for one of the old steps,” he said. “I’ll go look.”

He rummaged around in the pile of wood torn from the house and found it among the scraps.

The woman gazed at the writing. Her husband had lived for the future. And maybe it could be said he lived for the destination instead of the road for getting there. But his focus drove him to love what was ahead, praying Light and Life for generations to come.

“I’m going to keep this,” she said.

 

I sipped coffee at Mom’s kitchen table during the Polar Vortex of January 2019. A windchill of almost minus fifty drove us inside for most of my visit up at her farm in northern Minnesota, and no amount of persuasion could convince me to enjoy the great outdoors. I shivered and pulled my sweater closer.

“Let’s drink our coffee in the sunroom,” Mom said.

I beamed. The room of many windows—my favorite room of all in her house. “Let’s do it.”

I refilled my mug, added a splash of cream, and headed with Mom toward the sunroom. I paused at the entrance and looked up. Above the doorway hung the piece we kids had framed for Mom in 2012 as a Christmas present. It was a rugged one, that gift, floating in its refined frame.

And there was Dad’s handwriting again, reminding me of his love for Mom—even beyond the years he would see: “Future window”

Future window.jpg
The sunroom.jpg

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

Wrestling

I’m facing an opponent on the mat.

It’s not death, although too many obituaries have been printed for ones close to my close ones in the past three months. It’s not lack, although for a while I feared it when the government shut down and refused to pay Husband for thirty-five days. It’s not destruction, although a crisis beyond our home rattles a branch of our family tree, threatening to snap it.

It’s something deeper.

While sipping coffee together on the couch, one of my own speaks up, showing me my opponent.

“I’ll always choose God,” she says, her chin wobbling, “but when I pray, I’m consistently disappointed.”

Her pain slices into my everything, and I would love to be the kind of adult who’s already glowing on the other side of hard. Instead, I only nod.

Because I’m disappointed too.

I’m called back to the mat again, my hopes hanging onto the hem of my sweatshirt. And there I wrangle and thrash around with disappointment—this time on my kid’s behalf.

When I think of my word for 2019, expectancy, I think of only good things to come—or at least I did when it came to me. What could it mean for me and the ones around me? The finale to a nagging health issue, freedom from a forever debt, healing for a crisis of faith?

Maybe I’m expecting the wrong things. Maybe I’m anticipating good things, but not good-for-me things.  

It’s only two months into the new year, and now I see the match is set; and I’m afraid someone around me might get pummeled before good finally pins evil on its back.

I think of a day not too long ago when Husband, reclining next to me, watched something. Whistles, shouts, and applause piped from the screen in his hand. I leaned over to take a look at the event unfolding on his phone: wrestling.

Behind that screen, my nephew in Valley City, North Dakota, overpowered his opponent, putting him in a cradle in the center of the mat. He was agile and smart, and he won more than one match.

When I’m alone again, I stumble on the story of a patriarch—the one who has trouble telling the truth. He sends his family on ahead across the river—along with all his possessions—and he’s alone too, because that’s where we are when we really fight. And he wrestles all night long with the One who knows him best.

What a strange story, I thought when I was a kid. Who would actually wrestle with God?

The man prevails—and receives a blessing—but hobbles away from that match, his hip socket touched for forever by his struggles in the darkness.

I struggle too with my expectations of how life should be and when. And it turns out I can put up a good fight. But in the end, I know Who’s better at this, Who knows what I need, and Who loves me best. So, I’ll step away from the mat sooner rather than later and let Him take down my disappointment, putting it in a half nelson before the final pin.

Because I really don’t like limping.

wrestling-100728_640.jpg

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

Love does

In 2006, I dropped out of life.

For months, I retreated into our family’s story to care for my sixty-seven-year-old dad, a post-bone marrow transplant cancer patient. The church we attended at the time was big, but we were small—a family of five among a multitude of others. We didn’t know too many people, I reasoned, so we probably wouldn’t be missed. But through a friend outside the church, word of what our family was doing leaked to the congregation.

And the church ladies came.

One by one over many weeks, those ladies drove to our house and climbed our front steps to drop off tuna noodle casserole, fried chicken, tater tot hotdish, burritos, rice dishes, salads, cakes, brownies, garlic bread, and more. Twenty-six meals in all.

And each bite tasted like love.

Sometimes the ladies called first to let us know they were on their way. Sometimes they knocked on our door to signal their deliveries. Sometimes they deposited their edible gifts—without a word—into the designated cooler on our porch and tiptoed away.

No one left her name. No one paused for a thank you. And no one expected anything of us, strangers to them, caring for our immunosuppressed loved one.

Even though our three girls were tiny and Dad’s care was intense, we didn’t need the meals, I told myself. Those meals should be for those struggling more than we were. Feeling undeserving, I phoned the warm meal ministry coordinator to thank her.

“God must think you really need it,” she said. “The response has been overwhelming.”

No sound made it past the lump in my throat. Instead, I nodded into the receiver, absorbing all of their love through the phone lines.

 

Because our culture says to, I think of romantic love each Valentine’s Day. But only for a few seconds. Then I remember those ladies who delivered casseroles instead of counsel, salads instead of sermons, and homemade desserts instead of stories of their own pain.

Love. It’s everything, which goes without saying. But what I learned from those church ladies was that love does without saying too.

 

… let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

cheese-casserole-283271_640.jpg

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

Hey there, reader!

Hey there, reader!

You’re out there somewhere on the other side of my screen. You live all over the world, I see. Whether I know you or we haven’t met yet, you make me smile.

I write for you—and me—to make sense of life, the neighborhood, and the world. We’ve been through a lot together over these past four and a half years, but I do most of the talking.

I’m brainstorming blog topics today, but can we do it together instead? It’s more fun that way. Grab your coffee or tea, and let’s chat.

What have you enjoyed most about my blog? What would you like to read (or read more of) in future posts?

Here are some new and/or used topics:

1.      Neighborhood stories

2.      Family service to the neighborhood and beyond

3.      Childhood stories

4.      Spiritual topics or faith-based perspectives on issues (examples: fasting, prayer, mercy, forgiveness, depression, disappointment, injustice, anxiety, anger, death, etc.)

5.      Travel stories (example: coverage of our family’s upcoming California road trip, summer of 2019)

6.      Healthy living, eating, and recipes (just kidding about the recipes! I’m not that person.)

7.      Business, movie, or book reviews

8.      Humorous stories

9.      Marriage and/or raising kids (I’m no expert, but I’ve been at it a long time.)

10.   My hobbies/jobs (grant writing, creative writing, modeling, hosting kids in crisis, donating plasma, thirty years of diary writing, etc.)

It’s your turn now. Readers, click here to send me a message. Subscribers, simply hit reply to this email.

I can’t wait to hear from you!

Tamara

No, this is no one we know. (Thank you, Pixabay stock photos!)

No, this is no one we know. (Thank you, Pixabay stock photos!)

 *Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

 

Blizzard, 1984

Happy Polar Vortex 2019!

If you’re in the cold’s path, reader, stay safe. Protect yourself; you’ll want those fingers and toes when the world thaws.

Let’s look back together to a blizzard long, long ago. Enjoy the following story I wrote (first published on December 31, 2015):

The February wind sliced through our coats as we hustled into the mall in Fargo, North Dakota. 1984 had rushed in with punishing sub-zero temperatures, and the packed snow squeaked like Styrofoam under our feet. My nervousness from the MMTA (Minnesota Music Teachers Association) district piano contests had eased off an hour earlier. In front of the judges, my memory had led my fingers through the motions, but my nerves quashed any passion I could have layered into the song. And so it came out bland but mostly accurate. Oh well. Done for another year. And now was the time for shopping. What more could a thirteen-year-old girl want?

My sisters—nine-year-old Olive and six-year-old Flo—and I milled around to my favorite stores: Lerner, Claire’s Boutique, Stevensons, Vanity, Contempo. As we walked, I tossed a furtive glance at Spencer’s Gifts; I could never go there because Mom thought the place was raunchy—especially the posters and other items in the back of the store. We passed by, and she zipped in to B. Dalton to browse through some books. Later, Flo tugged her sleeve as we neared the Orange Julius. Mom pulled out some cash, and while we slurped the creamy goodness through straws, we looked out the mall’s glass doors at the end of the corridor.

“The snow’s really coming down.” Mom shook her head, wide-eyed. “I should call Dad and see what he knows about the roads.”

She rummaged through her purse for change and then made a beeline for the pay phones. Olive, Flo, and I listened while she discussed the weather with Dad. Terms like black ice and whiteout peppered her end of the conversation. After some minutes, she hung up, and the pay phone gulped down her coins.

“Dad thinks it might clear up if we wait a little longer before heading home.” But Mom’s mouth was a straight line, her brow furrowed.

As we continued to roam from store to store, a voice boomed out an announcement over the mall’s loudspeakers:

“This is the West Acres Mall Management. We are closing the mall due to dangerous weather conditions. For safety reasons, everyone must remain inside. We will keep our restaurants open to serve you, and for those with diabetes or other medical conditions, Walgreens will help you with insulin or other medications. Thank you.”

We girls tittered with excitement. For a 1980s teenager like me, being locked into a shopping mall was like Brer Rabbit being thrown into a briar patch.

“I guess I won’t be driving home on glare ice after all.” Mom’s face softened. “I’ll call and tell Dad the news.”

In the evening, employees tugged their store grates shut, locking them for the night. But one store rigged up a TV and VCR and played Black Stallion for the captive masses.

Finally, it was time to sleep. We curled up on a small carpeted area on the floor in front of Foxmoor. Our stocking caps stuffed with scarves served as pillows, our coats as blankets.

The thrill of the adventure staved off the chill of the hard floor. But we awakened early the next morning anyway, along with the other confined shoppers who were rousing in storefronts near ours. The voice on the loudspeaker invited us to breakfast at a restaurant which fed us the only sustenance it had left: pancakes and water.

At last, the mall management unlocked the doors, and we were free to leave. The morning air stung our faces as we trudged through the drifted parking lot. Our car’s engine sputtered to life, and the stiff seats under us warmed. But the sight of vehicles stuck in the lot and strewn about in ditches and on roadways jarred us as we rolled out of town.

At home later that evening, we watched the news and learned that after that storm on February 4, 1984, authorities found Fargo’s 19th Avenue full of cars—most of them covered in drifts. Drifts as high as speed limit signs. And just outside West Acres Mall—where we had taken shelter—a number of people had lost their lives.

All these years later, I think of our story and shiver. Shopping malls: saving teenage girls from social embarrassment since forever. Who knew they could save lives too?

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

dane-deaner-272361-unsplash.jpg

Words for 2019

I know I’m on the cusp of something. Something good. So, my word for 2019 dropped into my mind as naturally as a memory.

EXPECTANCY.

I shared it with my girls. They nodded.

“It’s like anticipation, but without the anxiety,” Flicka said.

Yes.

In 2019, I won’t live in wishful thinking, but I’ll walk in EXPECTANCY. And I’ll keep you posted.

Last week, I asked you, my readers, what words you had chosen for yourselves for the new year. Here’s what you told me:

KINDNESS: Kindness is lacking in far too many people’s verbal and physical vocabularies. People need to be consistently taught, retaught, and reminded of its importance in the treatment of everyone.

Linda, Lake Stevens, Washington

*****

BREATHE. Anxiety, fear, worry... they all make me hold my breath. In the moment, I don't even realize it, but 'not breathing' has been with me since I was a kid. My past words- Release (I kept that one for several years) and Grace both came from a desire to let go and to live life with thoughtfulness and peace. With the same intention, this year, I will remember to breathe.

Trixie, Hudson, Wisconsin

*****

TRUTH: The truth in God’s word. I’ve spent WAY too much time being fearful. The only thing that changes fear is God’s truth instead of how I feel.

Sharon, Great Falls, Montana

*****

INVEST: In my health. In my wellness. In my family. In friendships. In my jewelry-making business. In my faith. In continuing my education. In building a career I love. In my essential oil team. In my communities. In my family’s future. In my home. In giving back. In getting my SPARKLE back... again (my 2018 word; I lost it again when my Dad died in June.)

In 2019, I will INVEST.

Sheila, Bloomington, Minnesota

*****

WELCOME is my word for 2019. Several years ago, I went back to work full time. I have focused my energies on being the best teacher I can be. I have allowed connections in the other parts of my life to weaken because of my lack of effort in maintaining them. I have also done little to expand my creative self. WELCOME will serve as a reminder to me to open myself to new experiences, people and opportunities. It will also remind me to invite all those I love and cherish to join me in the here and now and celebrate today.

Kristan, Golden Valley, Minnesota

dictionary-1149723_640.jpg

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

 

What's your word?

I mulled over the Word as I blended the dough for the Sandbakkels, watered the Scotch pine, and brewed the Trader Joe’s gingerbread coffee. I dwelled on the Word as I wrapped the presents, waited my turn at the post office, and crooned along to the season’s music. I thought of the Word as I slipped into new high heels, snapped the festive photos, and held lit candles at two services.  

Christmas is over now, but I still contemplate the Word—the Word that became flesh.

But as the new year approaches, I think about other words too. I’ve already chosen my special one for 2019—a word to remember when my faith is flagging, my hope is sagging, my heart is dragging.

I’ll share it with you next week.

Do you choose a word each year too? A word that focuses, guides, and encourages you?

What’s your word for 2019?

Send me a message here with your word and why you chose it, and I’ll publish it in next week’s blog. (Subscribers, simply hit reply to this email.)

The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.

dictionary-1619740_640.jpg

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

 

The song

The Christmas tree glows in the fresh hours of the morning. Everyone else is still sleeping. It’s too early to turn on music for the house, so I plug headphones into my ears and scroll through a music app on my phone. It’s just the dog, me, and a blanket on the couch. Transcendence is a tap away. I click.

Through the headphones, the beloved song about a small village in a faraway land two thousand years ago soothes me.

O little town of Bethlehem, How still we see thee lie!

Nothing still about our part of town. Too recently in North Minneapolis, gang members crossed into their enemies’ territory to settle a score. The sounds of gunshots reverberated off houses four blocks from ours, and before it was over, five men were shot. Ambulances rushed the injured ones to North Memorial.

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by;

That night before sleep could steal me, I gazed at the dark ceiling of the bedroom, listening. No emergency vehicles screamed by our windows. Only distant sirens sliced the night.

I thought of that day’s shootings, but no emotion stirred me. In fact, I hadn’t even heard the news until a friend, ragged with worry, called to check on us. And then too, I felt nothing; no twinge of pain, no lurch in my heart, no tug of mercy—not like in the early days in our neighborhood when I was all feelings, desperate to do something.  

Why didn’t this kind of news affect me anymore? Because this was gang violence and to be expected? That’s what many people believed. Were they right?

Alone the next day, I sank to my knees on the living room rug—in that favorite spot of mine where eternal meets temporal—and I raised it up: Let me feel something again. Let me see what You see.

Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light:

Now this morning, with headphones on, I draw a deep breath and let it go. Maybe that ancient village wasn’t so unlike mine. The streets were dark there too, weren’t they?

Blurry faces tied up in gangs and drugs and violence in my mind now morph into clear ones—the faces of the ones I love. The faces of the young kids in the neighborhood who once played basketball on our driveway. The faces of the ones we opened our door to—and always will. The faces of the ones I worry have picked the thorny path, the ones who might have already chosen the way of death.

What if some of my loved ones in the neighborhood have witnessed hatred blast their friends or family members from this world? What if they’re survivors with PTSD because they’ve glimpsed hell and have to walk with it? Or what if they’ve made the violence and have to live with it?

But there’s a Light. An everlasting Light.

And even in the darkness it comes to pierce their hearts—and my own again.

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

This song of the season whisks me away now—and my fears with it—its message vaster than its lyrics. It reminds me we’re not from here, and it’s not where we’ll stay either. All of us were made for something higher than our fears, even higher than our hopes.

The song lifts us above the earth this Christmas season, so we feel again. And for a while, we fly free too. Together.

Glowing tree.jpg

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

Rejoice

Rejoice with those who rejoice.

I’ve heard this twice now since Thanksgiving, and today a writer friend sends me an article about being grateful for what I don’t have (but others do), making this the third time the message has floated to me in one week. Be thankful for the good things that come to other people, the article says but in prettier words. Rejoice.

It’s a new facet for the gratitude journal; I could commit whole pages to thankfulness for what I don’t have but wish I did.

I mull it over with my coffee this morning and the same old thought patterns flicker like the lit candle next to me. How long will I wait for:

the thing I’ve bathed in prayer for over two decades?

the dream I offer up to the One who gave it to me in the first place?

the identity I think is for me, yet isn’t something I wear today?

But the Advent season, now upon us, is all about waiting—waiting for the One who hears petitions, the One who plants dreams, the One who is bigger and better than any version of us.

I’ll keep waiting. And I’ll rejoice in the not yet for me, but the right now for others while I’m at it.

jason-leung-479251-unsplash.jpg

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

The gratitude journal

Negativity slithered through our front door this fall, bringing darkness with it. We didn’t see it coming, of course, because that’s how it works.

But one day in late October, the dreariness captured my attention. How long had it been this dusky inside the house? I could hardly see the truth anymore for all the shadows.

“Not this again,” I said to no one in particular.

But I wasn’t the only one letting negativity’s gloom into our living quarters. Other family members had opened the door for it too. And we all seemed to entertain it most during our mealtimes together, venting our frustrations and irritations until the light over the table was as dim as a Minnesota morning in the fall before going off daylight savings time.

We were justified in our complaints, though, weren’t we? We were only discussing what was happening, right? There wasn’t any harm in it, was there? Facts were facts. And we could all agree there were too many hoops for Flicka to hop through in college, too many unanswered questions about Ricka’s life post-high school, too many worries about volleyball club teams for Dicka, too many schedule changes for Husband at work, and too many demands layered into my own days.

While the discussions stimulated me at first, negativity soon sucked away my energy.

Finally, I was done with it. So I resurrected an ancient solution for me—and for the family.

Gratitude.

“Here’s what’s happening,” I said one night at dinner, plunking down an old spiral notebook and pen. “We’re going to start a gratitude journal. It’ll stay right here on the table. Add to it whenever you think of something.”

I acted as scribe that first time, pointing my pen at each family member in the circle, forcing answers out of the whole lot of them until each had said something—anything.

At first, our gratefulness was staid: friends, family, volleyball, the dog. But as the days went, it broke free: Life Cereal, Dad telling his own embarrassing stories to comfort us, Dicka’s quick metabolism, God’s concept of time and money, when that car didn’t crash into Ricka in Uptown, candles, ChapStick, Flicka’s fast-growing hair, bagels, snow tires, the sun…

The concept of gratitude has existed since darkness was separated from light, and a person documenting his or her thankfulness has been around for eons too. Even so, I shared my not-so-creative-but-fresh-to-me idea of a gratitude journal with some loved ones.

Several had already tapped into the power of putting it on paper.

“It’s a life changer,” my sister said.

“It’s a game changer,” my friend said.

“It changes everything,” my neighbor said.

Hmm. So much change.

A week later, Ricka entered the house from school, her cell phone in hand. She tapped on it. “Mom, I took notes today about things I’m thankful for. Wanna hear them?”

She rattled off her list to me, and I transcribed the items into the gratitude journal. Taking a closer look, I noticed others had been in our notebook too—others beyond our family—scratching down their own notes of gratefulness.

That night at dinner, the dining room table looked different. Something had changed. I could see the food better—and my family too.

Was it just me, or was it brighter in here?

 

*Question for you, reader: If you started a gratitude journal today, what things/people/etc. would make your top ten?

gratitude journal.jpg

 *Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.