Waiting: Advent 2020

The global experiences of this unusual year have changed the way we express ourselves. So much so that the publishers of the Oxford English Dictionary couldn’t choose just one Word of the Year for 2020. While pandemic and Coronavirus are obvious, look at others that rose to the top: Blursday (the blurry sameness of everyday); doomscrolling (reading online all the opinions/facts); social distancing and flatten the curve and the fun new ways we use remote to describe work and education.

I’ll add another: waiting.

Waiting has become one of the names of this pandemic game. We’re waiting for normal, for justice, for civility, for people to consider and honor the common good, for election results, for a vaccine, for schools and businesses to reopen safely, for empathy, for the time when we can venture forth without anxiety, for hugs, for a new year, for hope.

We’re waiting. Oh Lord, we’re waiting, and we’re fatigued from all the waiting. We don’t like waiting in general and this year we are certainly learning that lesson…among others.

Advent, which comes from the Latin word for “coming,” is the Church season in which we wait for God. We celebrate God coming to dwell among us in Jesus. We open our hearts to how God wants to come into our lives now. And we anticipate with hope our everlasting life with God.

I write about many things on this blog, stories featuring my family and friends and pets, creativity, travel, vegetarian recipes…all ways I experience everyday epiphanies regarding the miracles smack in front of my distractable eyes. This month I’ll focus on Advent, and I hope you’ll join me for the journey. On Sundays I’ll post daily readings; the readings for Sundays in particular are meant to accompany the lighting of candles in an Advent wreath. If that’s not part of your tradition, you can light any candle and follow along.

If you’d like to see the beautifully designed Advent devotional guide by The Creative Resource, click here.

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.Psalm 139:11-12

Week 1 – The Light of Hope
November 29- December 5

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Light the first candle (middle purple candle): We light these candles to celebrate Jesus, who comes into the darkness to shine the light of hope.

Read Scripture: Luke 1:67-80
(Shorter reading: Luke 1:67-70, 76-79)

Read: Praise be to our God, who sent prophets to remind us of His covenant of love, sustain our hope, and prepare the way for our coming Lord who will shine His light in our darkness and guide our feet to the path of peace.

Pray: Most High God, thank you for the gift of people who remind us of your great love. With hope we anticipate the birth of your Son, in whose name we wait and pray, Amen.

Monday Genesis 1:3-4 What does it mean to you personally that God has the power to create light out of darkness? 
Tuesday Exodus 3:2-3 When have you seen God’s light appear in surprising places?
Wednesday Exodus 13:21-22 How does God’s light go in front of you?
Thursday 1 Kings 18:33-39 What big or small miracles have you witnessed that help you know that the Lord is God?
Friday 2 Chronicles 13:10-11 How might lighting a candle in your home remind you to honor and serve the Lord?
Saturday Psalm 19:8 How do God’s commands give light to our eyes? What does that mean for you today?

Cover image by Jan Zatloukal from Pixabay

Giving Thanks in An Exceptional Year

I always prefer to focus on gratitude, yet I hadn’t been feeling it this Thanksgiving week. So I posed a question to our community via Facebook:

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I wonder if you would share what uniquely 2020-related things you are thankful for?

In this exceptional year, I thought we might move beyond the typical answers: life, health, family, community. As it turns out, those answers carry exceptional significance this year. When U.S. COVID cases have reached 12.7 million and 260,000+ have died, the essential facts that we and our loved ones are alive and healthy becomes a precious truth for those who can claim it. This year has yielded a renewed awareness that we aren’t promised anything and everything can change without warning. We are learning anew to appreciate our own vitality, the breaths we inhale and exhale over minutes that become hours that become days, and the people with whom we share breathing space—especially those we trust within six feet.

Which leads us to: Family. We’re grateful not to frantically rush out the door for our commutes or carpooling children hither and thither and instead to move a little slower. To share family lunches, hearing about school in the middle of the day. To teach kids to ride a bike or overhear through the bedroom door as they sing along with the school choir. To have unexpected time with littles who grow too fast or with older children who will soon fly the nest, or those who tried and got COVID-grounded or those who’ve made a return trip with fledglings of their own. We’ve had time and space to connect and care for one another differently as we’ve all gone through the strange experiences of this year. Some increased the love under their roof by adding dogs or cats to their households.

Zoom has taught many of us that we can work remotely and it’s given us another tool to connect with family and friends in other places. Some have been holding weekly dinners or game nights via Zoom, an idea that likely wouldn’t have occurred to them before March. Who can tell how many families and friends will celebrate with a virtual Thanksgiving feast?

We are grateful for friends who make us laugh. Last spring the world witnessed Italians singing from the balconies of their homes and apartment-dwellers who held evening calisthenics each outside their own front door. As we walked our dogs, we saw socially-distanced neighbors in cul-de-sacs and on street corners enjoying a “six feet at six o’clock” cocktail hour. A local DJ held socially-distanced neighborhood dance parties. One person commented, and many chimed in, that she is grateful for the way those in our community “swarm” to help others with small or big needs; this swarm produces honey as it relieves life’s stings.

We’ve rediscovered ways to savor time, playing board games and card games with family, hiking our spectacular trail system under smoke-free skies, or dabbling in watercolor painting through a subscription art kit. Reading lots and lots of books. Developing our skills through online classes.

It seems to me that the unexpected and initially undesirable changes brought about by the pandemic initiated so much more than cleaner closets and bread baking skills. It gave us quiet in which to reflect on our priorities and lingering conversations with family and neighbors. It forced us to get creative about how we would maintain the essentials for living and it freed us to be creative in other previously neglected and also life-giving ways. It freed us to live into who we are and who we want to be.

One respondent admitted that she found my question difficult to answer since the pandemic has hit her family hard. Although I’ve never met her nor do I know the specifics of her situation, I extended sympathy. As we say, “we’re in this together,” and clearly this year has been hard…illness, death, unemployment, draining bank accounts, loneliness, mental health issues, grief on so many levels. That’s precisely why I asked the question. We know how hard it’s been, and most of us know that our mis/fortunes rest along a spectrum: we have it hard, and also easier than others. Everyone’s lives have changed…in the same and vastly different ways.

In my faith tradition we acknowledge that when you don’t have words to pray for yourself you can rest in the prayers of others. Similarly, when I couldn’t name my own gratitude, I relied on the gratitude of others. “Yes,” I repeated with each response. “Yes, me too,” I’m grateful for that, and that, and I’m grateful to hear about that small or spectacular development in your life.

And so…

A Prayer of Overflowing Gratitude During Thanksgiving Week of an Entirely Unexpected and Exceptional Year

To the One from whom all good gifts flow I whisper Thank You for life and breath and health and the reminder that we can’t take any of it for granted. For families and slow time to hike and ride bikes and learn to cook or bake or support local restaurants by eating delicious take-out food. For the particular humans I get to call “mine,” and for the shared memories and the coming moments that will be tomorrow’s memories. For board games and card games, even the video games I don’t like but over which my guys bond and burn through their frustration loudly in the garage while I quietly read a book in another room. For skin care products which matter so much more than make up and baseball caps to hide the pandemic-casualty formerly known as a hairstyle and for the comfort of lounge wear all day and night. For the enthusiastic love of our furry friends and the hours upon hours we’ve walked dogs through neighborhoods and along trails, watching the tiny and wondrous changes of the seasons. Thank you for California poppies and irises and hawkweed and thistles, roses and hydrangeas and mums, and mustard plants that grow taller than our 85-pound dog. For sunshine and clear skies and the end of fire season and for the twisting and turning of rainbow-colored autumn leaves on the trees and the ground. For the neighbors we’ve greeted from a distance and waved at through windows and conversed with on the phone or over social media or Facetime or Zoom. For books and our library system and my never-empty Kindle. For Netflix and The Queen’s Gambit and Schitt’s Creek and Disney+ and Hamilton; may Lin Manuel live to write many more plays. For creativity and its multiple expressions we might not have witnessed except for this year. For freedom and those striving for freedom for all. In this Thanksgiving week and on every day of this ridiculous year whether I feel it or not, I whisper Thank You. We say Thank You. The people shout Thank You. And so, Amen.

Books Make the Best Gifts – Holiday 2020

I just finished reading my 74th book in 2020. Way back in January, or what feels like eight years ago now, I set a goal to read 55 books; Goodreads tells me I’m at 135% of that goal–and I’m not done yet!

Still, it’s time to purchase holiday gifts and I have some readers on my list. I’m a firm believer that books make great gifts. I have so many Christmas memories involving books… quelling my Christmas Eve anticipation by hiding away in a book, or putting off the inevitable let-down I always felt at the end of the extra-special holiday season and the return to “normal” life by, you guessed it, sticking my nose firmly in a book.

Sure, I liked toys and gadgets as much as the next child–like my Simon game with its colorful and annoying beeping patterns, or my first eight-track cassette player with a now-embarrassing Shawn Cassidy crooning at me–but a stack of books was always my favorite.

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

So here are a few of my favorites from the books I’ve read this year for your consideration…

For the bibliophile/fantasy reader: The Starless Sea by Erin Morganstern

For the reader who enjoys a life-affirming story: Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

For the literary fiction lover:
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
The Vanishing Half by Britt Bennett

For the historical fiction fan: The Exiles by Christina Baker Klein

For those who thrill to a creative reinterpretation of biblical stories:
The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
The Book of V. by Anna Solomon

For the art lover: The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean

For teenagers and/or the young at heart:
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins
Dear Martin by Nic Stone

For the non-fiction world-changer: The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton

For the friend who’s worn through their walking shoes in this pandemic year: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

For the mindful reader: Radical Compassion by Tara Brach

For those who appreciate spiritually-focused memoirs:
Miracles and Other Reasonable Things by Sarah Bessey
Untamed by Glennon Doyle
Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott

Book titles link to Amazon for more info + easy purchasing. Please note: As an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.

Storm Reflections

Today it’s blustery and gray outside, and the forecasted rain is most certainly on its way. It’s chilly and the storm hasn’t yet hit. It will be colder and wetter soon.

But not that long ago the sun radiated through the autumn-bedazzled green-yellow trees. The sky was a brilliant blue and even with a slight breeze the sun warmed my skin as I strolled the dogs through our neighborhood.

Today’s storm will hit and darkness will descend during daylight hours. But we know, in hope and from experience, that the sun will rise again.

Even on sunny days, for many of us 2020 has been a stormy year. Things have changed, minor inconveniences and devastating losses, and despite our attempts to calibrate to this “new normal” or our plaintive longings for the old “normal” that may have been the song on repeat but also may have been more ear worm than desirable—can anyone define what we even mean by “normal”?—this has been an exhausting year replete with challenges we’d prefer to have avoided. We’ve been shoved into a marathon for which we didn’t train; we’re parched and gasping for breath to fill our aching lungs.

But when we’re alone in our rooms, quiet outside and in (hard as that may be), we can take comfort that this, too, shall pass. We know, in hope and from experience, that the storm will cease and the sun will rise.

We don’t know when, or how, or what the newly-illuminated landscape will look like. We have theories, arguments, conjectures, sure we do. Or at least we try to conjure or adopt or collage theories, arguments, and conjectures so we appear educated, thoughtful, “in the know.” Other times we simply throw up our hands, shrug our shoulders, and sigh with the admission that we have no idea. We’re just doing our best to slug our way through today.

So today I’m going to light candles and start a fire in the fireplace. I’m going to drink hot tea. I’m going to listen as the rain thrums on the roof and the wind whistles and I’ll watch through the windows as the trees enthusiastically dance like they’ve been waiting for the storm as debutantes waited all season for the grand ball.

I will seek moments of beauty in the storm. Living in drought-prone California, I’m trained to appreciate water falling from the sky even when it’s inconvenient. I will respect the storm for what it is, for its differently beautiful gifts that nudge me to a new and necessary perspective.

I know, I know, that may be easier said in an actual rainstorm than done in the unimaginable storms of this year. Yet I can’t help but wonder: what candles can we light, and what will we admire in their glow? What unexpected gifts might this year offer as it prods us to reconsider our priorities, as individuals, neighbors, and citizens of our country and the world?

Because the sun will rise. It’s coming, friends.

Cover Image by Kerstin Riemer from Pixabay

2020 Travel: Tahoe

A week ago I began a blog and Instagram series on 2020 Armchair Traveling: My Life in Coffee Mugs. I wrote about New York City, Norway, and the San Francisco Bay Area and on IG posted about each of these destinations as well as San Diego. This is the final post in this series…for now.

Irony: planning and posting a series about Armchair Travel in the same week that generous church folks gifted us a few days’ stay in their Lake Tahoe vacation home. Of course we went.

Before we moved from SoCal to NorCal, someone who had moved the opposite direction mentioned that soon enough we’d be vacationing in Tahoe. He might as well have said we’d be hitting up Ibiza on the regular, it sounded so unlikely. He wasn’t wrong.

I’m not a snow sports person and I mostly like to experience snow through a picture window. But I do love to hike, and camp, and we’ve done a lot of both in Tahoe. And we have several generous friends who have handed us the keys to their vacation homes for an off-season weekend away.

My favorite picture from my first Tahoe birthday in 2007

Typically my birthday, which in early November means “mud season” and low crowds – tucked in between the crowded months of summer sun seekers floating on the Truckee River and boating on the lake and winter snow seekers.

Time stretches differently on vacation. Even though we had remote work/school on Thursday and Friday, we also had time for long hikes and soaking in the hot tub. We talked more and about different topics. We created new memories.

The sounds of the trip: the “slush” of lake-front sand or sloshy snow and the “crunch” of gravel or icy snow under our feet; the occasional “wa-wa-wa-whoops!” as we slipped on ice and flailed our arms seeking upright-balance like birds flapping hard against uneven wind currents; and the haunting-hollow clarinet howl-squeak of the wind during the day it stormed.

And laughter. Lots of conversation punctuated by joyous peals of laughter.

2020 Armchair Traveling: San Francisco

This week I’m armchair traveling on my blog and Instagram to share My Life in Coffee Mugs.

I grew up in San Diego. I went away to college and eventually returned. And then we moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, where we’ve lived for almost 15 years.

The Bay Area is where our kids grew up. They were 7 and 2 years old when we landed, so this is their home like San Diego will always be mine.

My husband used to comment that SoCal didn’t have trees, and I didn’t understand—could he not see the palm trees and eucalyptus trees, the citrus and avocado trees? Now I get it, though, since we have giant redwood trees in our own backyard. We drive three minutes to a redwood forest.

I love the natural open spaces, walking from home to scenic hiking trails. I love our walkable neighborhood and the hours I spend each week pounding the pavement with my pups.

I love the weather, that we have distinct yet not severe seasons; you can take the girl out of SoCal but she will still prefer mild year-round weather. I love real rain storms and bundling up and lighting a fire on chilly days—we can get to snow when we want to but we don’t have to shovel driveways—and I’m grateful to wear sandals most of the year.

I love our small town, and that we can be in San Francisco in short order (traffic depending), to visit the beach (Crissy Field is our favorite), Pier 39, the Ferry Building, particularly on Saturday mornings for the Farmers’ Market, Union Square during the holidays or Ghirardelli Square for, what else?, chocolate. Or we can be wine tasting in Napa in 45 minutes, or at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in less than two hours. This is the farthest I’ve lived from the beach and yet we get to the beach regularly.

Because this is where our family grew up, no matter where life may take us, the Bay Area will always also be Home.

2020 Armchair Traveling: Norway

This week I am sharing on my blog and on Instagram about My Life in Coffee Mugs. On Monday, I wrote on the blog about New York City. On Tuesday on Instagram I posted about my hometown of San Diego. Today I am blogging about Norway…

We celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary with two weeks in Norway. We spent a week on the Hurtigruten, a mail delivery/cruise boat (though not the kind of cruise you typically think of), sailing along the coastline and through the fjords from Bergen to Kirkenes. The following week we flew to Oslo, took the train to Kristiansand, and then rode the train back to Bergen—arguably the most beautiful train ride in all of Europe (I can’t compare, but it was truly spectacular).

Along the way we visited my Norwegian family: my second cousins and my mom’s cousins, and we had the enormous privilege of holding a gathering in honor of my recently departed grandmother in her hometown of Lista with nine of her cousins, happy to tell stories and leaf through pictures in yellowing photo albums.

Lista Fyr, the lighthouse my grandmother considered “hers,” since this is the view from her childhood home

This wasn’t my first trip to Norway, but it was revelatory to see with adult eyes the country that grew my grandmother and my mother. Watching the cold and rugged coast drift by the Hurtigruten windows, houses improbably stuck to cliffsides, with narrow one lane roads–or no visible roads at all—I was newly impressed with the hardiness of my people.

I do not feel so hardy, rather cushy-spoiled by my SoCal upbringing, but I have renewed respect for my mom and grandma, for the stock boiled into and diluted in my blood. I differently understand their desire to be outside in all weather, their need for nature, growing things, water, green and blue–in potted plants and paintings and photographs, if that’s how they can get it.

To have a pot of coffee roasting hot from early-dark to late-night. To have tins stocked with fresh-baked cookies, and oven-fresh pastries, ready to serve to guests. To savor the aroma and relish the taste of fresh caught and cooked fish. Or to over-boil the fish and the potatoes, as well as the peas and green beans until they’re slightly gray, because high culinary status hadn’t hit Norway before they departed for the U.S.

I wouldn’t be me without my Norwegian heritage. I wonder if my siblings feel the same, or if my name, Siv, tightens my family ties. Every single time I meet someone, I have to explain my Norwegian name: “like Steve without the T,” Siv—wife of thunder god Thor—goddess of the harvest whose blonde hair waved in the wheat like the wind.

Simple and complicated. Like me.

P.S. My Norwegian cousins confirmed that, although coffee is a big deal in Norway, Starbucks is not. We bought this mug in the airport at the only Starbucks we saw.

2020 Armchair Traveling: My Life in Coffee Mugs

Along with so much else in 2020, travel has been cancelled. Good thing my coffee mugs remind me where I’ve been–exactly what Starbucks intended, right? This week, I’ll let my warm cuppa whisk me away to share a few highlights from my life.

Today is my birthday.

It’s also an ordinary Monday in an exceptionally strange year.

A year ago my family celebrated my milestone birthday in NYC. I’m not big on Big Cities, but NYC was where I wanted to wake up 50. No big party, rather a long weekend creating new memories with my loves. (Irony: we booked an AirBnB in New Jersey so I did not, in fact, wake up in NYC).

Setting aside the expected-and-unusual bumps that typically arise during travel, my last birthday was a nearly perfect day in an as-close-as-they-come perfect weekend.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Kicking up crunchy fall leaves as we strolled through Central Park. The Guggenheim. A fabulous sit-down dinner (at an all-veg restaurant, so the teens would describe it differently). The Empire State Building. Gourmet ice cream to end the day.

the view from Belvedere Castle in Central Park

During our stay, we hit many of the big touristy sites–the Statue of Liberty, the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, the Stock Exchange and Federal Hall (and by happy accident, Hamilton’s grave), the American Museum of Natural History, Rockefeller Center, Broadway, Times Square, even Carlo’s Bakery–since we had never explored NYC as a family.

The Met was our unanimously favorite spot

But one of the highlights for me was tripping across memories of my family ties to this place:

The Fashion Institute of Technology, where my mom studied children’s clothing design at the same time Calvin Klein studied fashion.

We walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, starting on the Brooklyn side where my grandma lived with my young mom and aunt during the years she worked as a cook at the General Motors Building across from Central Park. My parents met at a mutual friend’s apartment, I can’t be sure now but maybe in Brooklyn?

My grandma lived in Queens when I was very young, when my parents and I lived on Long Island. My dad flew out of LaGuardia as a pilot for Pan American Airlines; before they married, he got my mom a job as a stewardess, a job she loved–”when airlines still offered hospitality that meant something”–until she got pregnant with me.

When I chose NYC as my birthday weekend destination, I chose it to visit fun and culturally significant places as a family. I didn’t realize that it would also connect me to family members no longer able to share their own memories.

One of the many benefits of travel.

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Following the Words: Scattered

One evening I heard myself say to my husband, “I feel scattered.” I went on to explain just a few of the dizzying directions in which my brain was spinning:

the books I’m reading–to study the author’s writing style, to challenge myself to learn about life from a different perspective, to unwind before bed;

my writing projects–the few side gigs that pay a few pennies, the assignments that stretch me, my commitment to post on my blog regularly, the personal projects I’m trying to take to the next level;

my thoughts and feelings about the divided state of our country, the political and racial strife stirring up people on the streets but also changing friendships and affecting families, the election, and oh, let’s not forget that we’re in the midst of a pandemic and I have never in my life spent this much time at home;

and the intensely personal thoughts and feelings about the ways in which my sons are struggling through distance learning and the coincidence of their developmental stages with this strange time in history, and my mom’s declining health and how her children are coming together…and not.

In other words, it’s a lot. Everybody’s dealing with a lot right now, but this is my heap of extra to pitchfork my way through in search of a needle to stitch together a patchwork quilt of goodness.

The next morning, as the foggy mental fatigue continued to hang heavy on me, I did what I do: I started writing. I decided to follow the word scattered, to listen to the images it offered and what they had to say to me.

I feel scattered…
…like the multicolored metallic glitter confetti strewn across the parquet wood-tile floor of my teenage bedroom after I tore open a belated birthday card…
No, not that bright.

…like the dots and frizzles of crepe-paper ribbons launched from the midnight canon on New Year’s Eve in Times Square, paper melting and colors bleeding into sludgy snow drifts, ground into the treads of shuffling boots and sneakers and spiked by the impractical inches of sparkly high heels impaling the neon dark dawn of another cold year…
No, not that wasted.

…like the wild ping and ding and plonk and buzz and whap-slap of pinballs bouncing and banging a dizzying hypotrochoid roulette through an arcade game…
No, not that loud.

…like fire ash twisting in the late-summer breeze, tangling with the twigs of sunlight creeping through the apocalyptic orange smoke sky, impossibly snowing grey soot on our white roses…
No, not that tragic.

…like the crisp underfoot crunch of fallen autumn leaves carpeting the ground, sun yellow, rusty red, burnt orange, vibrant and colorful and withered, contributing their seasonal decay decoration to the loamy compost which will energize more life to burst forth from the ground…
Yes, organic potential, scattered like that.

Not the best piece of writing I’ve produced, but that wasn’t the point. The process itself was helpful. For a time I lost myself in playing with words and images. It felt freeing to be able to see, and then reject, what scattered could but didn’t mean to me: no, not wasted like crepe paper confetti on New Year’s Eve, or loud like pinball machines in an arcade. Not bright, not tragic.

But yes, scattered like fallen leaves, natural, not artificial, still scattered, but promising. Each factor in the multiplicity of ideas and anxieties boggling my brain and soul might come together for exponential growth. Some thoughts, like those fallen leaves, will crumble into dust and blow away on the breeze–not everything needs to lead to something or even mean something–but others may contribute to the rise of something new.

Though feeling scattered remains uncomfortable, the process of following the words led me to hope. And for that, I am grateful.

Cover Image by Martina Janochová from Pixabay

All Saints’ Day

Still trembling with fear, I grabbed Mom’s arm in wobbly desperation. “Do Not Ever let me ride that again!” I gasped. “Even when I’m a teenager and I come here with my friends, tell them I Am Not allowed to ride that ride!”

My mom took me and my sister to Disneyland, an hour-and-a-half drive from our home, and we went on the Haunted Mansion ride. About half-way through, our chair spun suddenly toward a mirror where I could see ghosts, invisible when I looked at myself but visibly sitting on my lap when I glanced in the mirror. Gah, ghosts? Only nine years old, I had the first panic attack of my life.

I’m not a Halloween person. As a kid, I liked costume parades and school carnivals, pumpkin carving and candy, all the candy, until that one year I learned that ALL the candy isn’t a grand idea. As a parent, I enjoyed helping my kids choose costumes, the kid-cute creativity and the fun of families gathering together for dinner and a trick-or-treat stroll of the neighborhood.

I understood early that I am sensitive, and scary + gore = more terror than I can handle. I eventually succumbed to sleep-over peer pressure and watched a few horror movies with friends, but that came to a hard stop when Nightmare on Elm Street gave me actual nightmares for months.

However, Halloween will always fall on October 31 and All Saints’ Day will always fall on November 1. I didn’t grow up within a tradition that observed All Saints’ Day, but it took on new meaning when my dad died on my son’s first birthday.

The Church has a centuries-old tradition of setting aside this day to remember those who have gone before us from life into death to form the “great cloud of witnesses” as mentioned in Hebrews: …since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus… (Hebrews 12:1-2, NRSV)

Although I have lightly pussy-footed with a little bit of running, that race image has never worked for me. I’m kind of a wuss, and perseverance implies a hard-edged discipline I don’t possess. Joy motivates me far more…and so it truly helps to remember that I, that we, have a jam-packed cheering section hootin’ and hollerin’ for us as we look to Jesus for direction on how to live each day.

I still don’t have a specific All Saints’ Day observance. Unlike Dia de Muertos, for me this day doesn’t come prepackaged with decorations, traditions, and treats. Some years it slips my notice altogether. But last night we had the quietest Halloween ever, take-out burritos (boo-ritos!) and a suspenseful (not gory) movie and not a single trick-or-treater at the door. Our kids having grown older and this pandemic year combined to cancel one more opportunity to gather.

Which made me more grateful for the timely encouragement I found this morning when I wasn’t even looking for it, a prayer and a hymn, the great cloud of witnesses putting resources in my hands to remind me that, though we may feel alone in these strange days, we are never truly alone.

By the way, my family celebrated my 40th birthday at Disneyland and, as the Haunted Mansion was also 40 years old, I received skip-the-line passes for the ride. Despite countless trips to Disneyland, I had, in fact, not ridden the ride since that first time. I put it off all day until finally, determined to conquer my fear, my young son held my hand and rode it with me.

Renovated to include characters from The Nightmare Before Christmas movie, we giggled throughout our short trip. The ride still has the ghost-infested mirrors, but they no longer scared me. At the end, my son looked at me with concern on his face: What about that was so scary for you? I understood his incredulity; the ride isn’t scary.

It scared me once, though, when it showed me that there might be more going on in our experience of this life than we can observe with our two eyes. Still, I’ll take a heavenly cheering section over ghosts any day.

Prayer: Lord, your saints come from every nation and every tribe. Such is the beauty of your kingdom, where every race and people are honored and recognized as being made in your image. Help us live lives of peace and reconciliation that pay homage to the diversity of your great cloud of witnesses. Amen. (from Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and Enuma Okoro)

Hymn:
Be still, my soul, the Lord is on thy side
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain
Leave to thy God to order and provide
In every change He faithful will remain
Be still my soul thy best, thy heavenly friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end

Be still, my soul, thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake
All now mysterious shall be bright at last
Be still, my soul, the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below

Be still, my soul, when dearest friends depart,
and all is darkened in the vale of tears,
then shall you better know his love, his heart,
who comes to soothe your sorrow and your fears.
Be still, my soul: your Jesus can repay
from his own fullness all he takes away.

Be still, my soul! The hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored
Be still, my soul! When change and tears are past
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last
(Be Still, My Soul!, music by Jean Sibelius, words adapted from Psalm 46 by Kathrina von Schlegel)

Cover Image by Henryk Niestrój from Pixabay