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The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shined…For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulder; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:2, 6

My children and I noticed Christmas lights popping up around town just after the switch to standard time in November this year, which seemed earlier than usual. Why are people putting up their Christmas lights now? my daughter asked me.

Maybe they want more light, I told her. It’s dark so early this time of year.

 When the above Scripture talks about darkness, it is talking about more than a lack of light. It is speaking of a deep spiritual darkness, one that is relevant to us today as well.

Last year I gave up reading the news for Lent, and continued my ban on news for several months longer. It was great. I could have happily gone on that way indefinitely, not knowing about migrant children being separated from their parents at our border, or the random episodes of violence that so often make the headlines. Ignorance can be bliss, at least temporarily.

But we are not called to live in ignorance, cut off from the troubles of the world. The world’s troubles continue, whether or not we recognize them. And at some point, we are all affected. We might choose not to think about climate change, for example, but it’s hard to ignore when our air becomes heavily polluted by wildfire smoke every August.

In a poem titled Good Bones, writer Maggie Smith proclaims that,

Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you though a real dump*, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

*expletive replaced

 We can’t ignore that we live in a land of deep darkness, as scripture says, or as Smith puts it, that the world is in large part terrible. But in spite of it, I do have an unshakeable sense of hope. I always picture a positive future for us on earth, just as it is in heaven.

Advent is here and with it we remember the coming of our King. Two thousand years ago our God chose to enter into our world in the most humble of ways, born in a manger because there was no room in the inn.

Do you wish that Jesus was here among us now, that you could sit across the table from him and get a straight answer about your big questions? I know I do. But Jesus wouldn’t give a straight answer anyway, preferring to teach through story and metaphor. Preferring to answer with a question.

Jesus was a light in the darkness. He came as our Savior, and he came to bring hope. Scripture tells us that when he left our world and ascended to heaven, we became his hands and feet.

This is an immense responsibility. We are Christ’s hands and feet. We are called collectively as Christians to be the light to the world. On a bad day, when we’ve read too many sad stories in the news, or when tragedy has touched us directly, we may say it’s too hard. We may say it hurts too much, there’s too much work to be done, I don’t know where to begin.

I imagine that if Jesus were sitting across from us at the table, he might simply say, This place could be beautiful right? You could make this place beautiful.

 Friends, I invite you to partner with Jesus this Advent season in bringing hope to the world. Here are a few concrete ideas for how to do just that.

Do random acts of kindness. Brighten someone’s day with an unexpected act of kindness. Write an encouraging text message or email, leave quarters at a laundromat, bring cookies to your neighbor, take time to recycle, send a Christmas card to your grandma, donate your used winter clothes to a homeless shelter. Small acts of kindness to others (and the planet) do make a difference.

 Serve your church or other local nonprofits. If you have a heart for service, there are many opportunities within our church as well as in the community. Food for Lane County, the Eugene Mission, and Habitat for Humanity are just a few local organizations that often need volunteers.

 Give relationally. If you’re like me and you haven’t yet completed your Christmas shopping, consider giving fewer material items and more relational or experiential gifts. This serves to strengthen relationships and create positive memories as well as cut down on waste — and it may even save you money. Relational gifts can vary widely depending on your budget, but it could be as simple as cooking a special dinner for family members.

Donate globally. Consider a donation to a nonprofit that helps the poor and marginalized in the developing world, where your dollars can make the biggest impact. One of my favorites is the Fistula Foundation, which provides life-changing surgery for women with devastating childbirth injuries in parts of Africa and Asia. Look for charities with high ratings from a reputable third party like Charity Navigator.

Visit adventconspiracy.org for more resources on living missionally during the Advent season.

P.S. What’s your favorite part of the Christmas season?

This post was originally published on the CitySalt church blog. Visit citysalt.org for other posts on this topic. 

 

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“Tattoos and no-tattoos can be friends,” my 5-year-old daughter interjects into our small group’s conversation about tattoos on a Tuesday evening.

Yes, I assure her, we can be friends with people who look different from us.

We live in divided and divisive times. We can categorize our neighbors into endless groups. Red states and blue states. Christians and “non-believers.” Protestant and Catholic. Evangelical and mainline Protestant. Blue collar and white collar. Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter.

I met my childhood best friend when she invited me to her sixth birthday party, as we stood together on the steps outside our elementary school. She was friendly and open in that way that only young children can be. I eagerly accepted the invitation and began a friendship that would last through high school and into the early years of college.

She was brown-skinned and I was white. Race wasn’t something we ever talked about, unless she brought it up in a joking way. “I don’t like white people,” she sometimes said, “except you and my mom.” She called herself a Nigerian princess.

I remember lots of sleepovers, Michael Jackson dance contests, endless rounds of Monopoly. I remember playing soccer in the Oregon rain. I remember going to see the Dave Matthews Band play in the Gorge, and the time the WOW Hall advertised our theater troupe on the same poster as a Slick Rick show. I remember writing rap songs for the band we started in third grade, and in college when our drunk friend got locked in a dorm room stairwell overnight I remember never laughing so much as I did with her.

I don’t remember ever asking my best friend about race, about what it was like to be one of the only brown-skinned kids in our school. Was it hard for her? If it was, she never let me know. Our high school group was a microcosm of diversity for Eugene, with three of my closest friends being ethnic minorities with immigrant parents from Nigeria, Korea, and Mexico.

Our friendship ended as suddenly and inexplicably as it began, with her one day choosing to stop returning my calls without any falling out or slow drifting away.

In college and beyond, my friendships seem to have become more and more homogenous. We are a 99 percent white, upwardly mobile, advanced degree holding, NPR-listening group of folks. We like to talk about social justice. We have backyard chickens and drink kombucha. We go to church, or used to before becoming disillusioned with organized religion. If we do have tattoos, they are discrete.

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Backyard chickens are so trendy right now! Too bad they attract rats.

I tell myself that my friends are similar to me because I don’t have many opportunities to get to know people who are different. But is that entirely true?

“You are the light of the world — like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.” — Matthew 5:14-15 (NLT)

It’s certainly easier to be friends with people who share similar backgrounds and interests as ourselves. But Jesus calls us to be a light to the world, something I can’t do if I remain cloistered in my kombucha-drinking, NPR-listening corner of the church. For my part, I want to be more intentional about widening my circle of acquaintances to include more diversity of race, religion, socioeconomic status and sexual orientation. Within the Church as a whole, we also need to do a better job of promoting dialogue between Christians with different political views and scriptural interpretations.

I wish I could go back to the openness of childhood, when it was so easy to make friends with anyone regardless of what they looked like or who their parents were. Fourteen years after my friendship with my Nigerian princess best friend ended, it still hurts to write about her. I wish we could go back to being friends like we used to be, but time has changed us, and we can’t ever go back to that place we stood, two first graders on the steps outside our elementary school, fulfilling Martin Luther King’s dream without even knowing.

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I wrote this post as part of a series on “Seeing the Other,” for the CitySalt Church blog. 

photo credit: numstead rooster via photopin (license)

 

The ancient Egyptians believed that a solar eclipse was the work of a giant snake attacking Ra, the sun God. In Viking lore, it was the work of sky wolves, and in China, a dragon. It was a terrifying and mysterious event that the was fended off by drumming or throwing flaming arrows towards the sun.

In Eugene we experienced about 99 percent totality during Monday morning’s solar eclipse. My parents came over with pinhole viewers, and sunflowers from their garden. I provided Explore One’s SunCatcher Solar Eclipse glasses, purchased several weeks earlier from Fred Meyer at $1.99 a pair. First it looked as though a bite had been taken out of the sun. Slowly the day turned to dusk and the temperature dropped. The neighbor’s chickens started squawking and someone lit off fireworks. My husband called to share in the moment — and then quickly the moon’s umbra started passing across the sun’s other side.

Who knew that the moon’s shadow could create such a stir? Some 25,000 people flocked to prime eclipse-viewing territory in the small central Oregon town of Madras, staring in awe at the sun’s vanishing act before quickly rushing off to create a massive traffic jam.

For my part, as fairly major nerd and nature-lover, I would have liked to have seen totality. But I felt I made the right choice with my kids to keep things simple and stay at home. Maybe I’ll see it in 2024, when it passes through my mom’s home states of Indiana and Kentucky, and northwest Arkansas where I used to visit my grandparents each summer.

At any rate it was nice to have a break from the relentless political media coverage, which has exposed us to shadows of another sort. Thanks to our modern understanding of our solar system we no longer have to fear the moon’s shadow, rather we can appreciate it as a majestic and rare phenomena. The shadow of the human psyche is another matter. It is something we understand very poorly, and in this case, what we don’t know can harm us.

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[A person familiar with their own shadow side] “knows that whatever is wrong in the world is in himself, and if he only learns to deal with his own shadow he has done something real for the world. He has succeeded in shouldering at least an infinitesimal part of the gigantic, unsolved social problems of our day.” – Carl Jung

 

All the talk of the eclipse, and the recent events in Charlottesville, have stirred up my emotions. The wonders of our universe. The horrors of human hatred. At one time I thought we lived in a post-racist society, but I see now that I couldn’t have been more wrong.

All shadows and light, shadows and light. And here we are, caught somewhere in between.

Did you view the eclipse? What was your experience like?

 

Thanks to my mom, Alice Evans, for taking the photos at the top of this post.

 

 

 

 

 

I hadn’t been quite sure where home was for awhile. After Spencer and I got married we moved every few years to a new apartment, from Eugene to southeast Portland, to Beaverton, back to southeast Portland, and finally back to Eugene. We rented a month-to-month apartment in Portland for three years, just waiting for the next step as we continued applying to jobs that we hoped would offer more stability. Even when I was pregnant with our first child, and during the first year of her life, we continued to apply to jobs out of the area, ready to move whenever needed. We even considered an offer I received to teach 5th grade girls in Kuwait, before (wisely) rejecting the idea for logistical reasons.

I knew that we were not home, just in a sort of limbo.

As a mom, I couldn’t survive in this rootless state. I needed deep connections, support, and stability. Ultimately I decided I needed to return to the place that was foundational in my life, the city I had lived in from birth until getting married at age 22. Eugene.

I didn’t know how much I loved Eugene until we moved back. I didn’t appreciate how many places around town were integrated deeply into layers of my unconscious. Memories were everywhere. Going for a walk at the Arboretum, for example, transported me back to early childhood, when I was close friends with the daughters of the groundskeeper.

In Portland I had felt so far away from my past, having virtually no ties left to childhood other than my parents. I didn’t have siblings, and I was no longer connected to any of my childhood friends.

I didn’t realize that you could love a place, that a whole town could be your companion in the absence of friends. Eugene had been with me through so much, in a way that no human being ever had. In Eugene I had learned to walk, ride a bike, climb a tree. As a child, I spent hours in apple trees in my backyard reading books. I had climbed to the top of Spencer’s Butte countless times. I had skinned my knees on the blacktop at my grade school, and gotten covered with mud during soccer games. I had made best friends and lost them, fallen in love, graduated college, gotten married.

So it was that when we moved because I needed to escape the devastating isolation of my life as a mom in Portland – I found refuge not just in the support of my parents but in my hometown itself. I knew this town, and somehow it seemed that Eugene knew me too.

And slowly I returned to myself.

Still, it took three years before we were able to buy a house. Three more years of living in a month-to-month rental. First with one toddler, who quickly grew into a preschooler, and soon our son was added to the family. We were a family of four in an 800-square-foot apartment with a tiny concrete deck as our yard. It helped that we were near many nice parks in our southeast Eugene neighborhood. Still, I was thrilled when we began our home search last summer, and overjoyed when we signed for a house, a modest three-bedroom in a quiet southwest Eugene neighborhood, several months later.

We moved into our new house the week of my 33rd birthday. My family and I had finally found our way home.

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Spencer and I take a selfie after signing for our first house. So happy!

 

We had an ice storm last Wednesday, rare in our temperate western Oregon climate. I sat on the couch in our living room watching as freezing rain coated the trees outside, and icicles grew on the power lines. I heard the bang and saw a flash of light as a transformer exploded somewhere in the neighborhood. Thankfully our power stayed on.

Later that evening, as I continued my couch vigil, watching the storm outside, I said a silent prayer that our electricity would stay on through the night. We don’t have a fireplace, or gas, so electricity is our only heat source. At the moment that I finished my silent prayer – the lights went out. My heart sank.

Spencer gathered flashlights, we put on extra layers of clothing, and I told the kids we would all get to sleep together in our king-size bed that night. They’ve both been finding their way into our bed by the middle each night anyway, so it wasn’t too out of the ordinary. It was a little fun, a bit like camping on a cold night.

Waking up in the morning with no heat and light was not very inviting. I was thankful that my parents, a few miles away, still had electricity, so I packed our bags and we headed to their house to stay as many days as needed.

We were lucky. My parents’ next door neighbor, and all down the street to the north, lost power and didn’t get it back until yesterday. The electricity at our house ended up coming back on Thursday afternoon. At Marie’s dentist appointment Friday, the hygienist told me she was without power at home, that it was an inconvenience but she didn’t mind too much. She was looking forward to barbecuing a steak that night.

My husband, who maintains parks in Springfield, has extra work now with all the downed trees everywhere. Ice storms are hard on trees. It made me think of the poem Birches, by Robert Frost:

When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.
But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay
As ice-storms do. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust—
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
(You can read the poem in its entirety here.)

The storm made me realize how fragile we are against the forces of nature. But oh, the beauty!

I may not know much about how the world works or why things happen the way they do. But I do know this: Life is full of fragile beauty. And I am here to be a witness.

“Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed.” – Mary Oliver

 

Yesterday was my birthday – I turned 32. I was woken up by my 7-month-old around 6 am; I nursed him and then he went back to sleep. Around 6:45 my 3-year-old daughter came in the room, and said, “Mommy! It’s your birthday! Daddy said I could sing the Happy Birthday song to you today!” Then she burst into song.

My birthday is on Veteran’s Day, so there was no preschool. I decided to find a new place to take the kids, so we visited Old School. When I was getting Baby Paul out of the car, I discovered he had a poopy diaper. So I changed him on the front seat, trying to do it quickly because it was a very cold and rainy morning. In the process, he peed all over his onesie and coat. I found him a new outfit, but not a new coat, so he was stuck wearing the pee coat. Marie then told me she needed to go potty, even though she had just went before we left the house. She has a fascination with trying the potty in new places. After using the potty in the 5th Street Market, we crossed to the 5th & Pearl building and took the 5 foot elevator ride to the first floor, and ventured down the hall to Old School.

Maybe it was just the mini elevator ride (remember Being John Malkovich?), but I felt like I’d arrived in a magical place when I stepped into Old School. It’s just a space where kids can play and work on crafts, but something about the ambiance is very special. We arrived a few minutes before 11, an hour past my original goal, but just in time for story time. We listened to stories, made a birdfeeder, and then Marie just played dress-up for about an hour before I decided it was time to leave.

When we left, Marie told me she needed to use the potty again. We went into a new restroom (so fun!) and she laid down on the floor of the stall to look at the mom and child in the next door stall. Meanwhile, I was holding baby Paul in the Ergo carrier. “Get up Marie! You’re being rude!” I told her.

“But I’m tired,” she said. I had to pick her up off the floor and set her on the potty, while holding the baby. Then of course I had to pick her up again when it was time to wash hands. All this to say – it’s a major ordeal to go anywhere with a 3-year-old and a baby.

Additionally, I was recovering from a bladder infection that I’d been trying to fend off naturally without antibiotics. So my mom got off work early to come help me out with the kids. When she got to our apartment, I tried to get some chores done, but I got dizzy and had to lie down. She took Marie to her house so I could rest, and I was able to nap with the baby for awhile.

By the time Spencer got home from work, I decided that he should take me to the after-hours clinic. I was imagining my UTI spreading to my kidneys and of course, leading to my imminent death. So instead of a date night, we got to visit the doctor. And the good news was that we found out my UTI was gone. At that point I think I was just feeling sick from fighting off the virus that Marie turned out to have later that evening! She woke up around 11 pm with a nasty cough and a fever.

Ah. So it was a hectic day. Additionally we found out my husband’s grandma had a heart attack that morning, induced by a panic attack. And I was thinking of my friend who is battling Stage 3 breast cancer — at age 30 — and had a bilateral mastectomy scheduled the next day (today).

But I still came out of the day feeling loved and appreciated. Spencer gave me a really thoughtful gift, as he tends to do. He got me books by two of my favorite writers, T.S. Eliot and Gregory Maguire. I’d even forgotten that I love Gregory Maguire, and I didn’t know he has a new book out, about Alice in Wonderland. So by remembering that I love a writer that I didn’t even remember I love (does that make sense?) Spencer pretty much proved that he is a good best friend/husband. And I had the opportunity to hear from quite a few people throughout the day via phone and Facebook. My college friends Jay and Holly called me for a surprise FaceTime chat while Spencer and I were watching our current Netflix favorite, Jane the Virgin. And my two best friends from high school texted me to wish me a happy birthday.

So it was fun to think about all the people who are an important part of my life now, or who have been important in the past. I’m thankful to have had a lot of special people in my life during the past 32 years. I’m thankful that my husband has been my best friend for the past 12 years, and that he’s been there for me in many ways – like taking me to the ER in the middle of the night when my son was 1-week-old and I had endometritis, planning a surprise ice skating birthday party for my 23rd birthday, bringing me takeout from Pine State Biscuits after I had a miscarriage, and celebrating our 5th wedding anniversary with a trip to Kauai. I’m thankful that we are able to live near my parents who offer me constant support – my mom is in our kitchen washing my dishes right now. And I’m thankful to be sharing my life now with two precious little ones – my daughter, the feisty future Broadway performer, and my sweet happy baby boy.

It really is a wonderful life.

I tried to take this selfie a few weeks ago, but my daughter hijacked it.

I tried to take this selfie a few weeks ago, but my daughter hijacked it.

The official start of summer is just around the corner. The fleeting season for eating freshly picked berries, riding bikes along the river trail, and hiking behind waterfalls. Undoubtedly, my richest memories are from summers.

 

At Tunnel Falls in the Columbia River Gorge.

At Tunnel Falls in the Columbia River Gorge.

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When I was a kid, summer was the season for our annual family vacations. Thanks to my parents’ adventurous spirit, I had many memorable experiences during those vacations. I won’t easily forget the time an orca swam underneath our zodiac raft on a whale-watching expedition in British Columbia. Or seeing the ancient marble formations inside the Oregon Caves. I’ll always remember the talent competitions at our Evans family reunions in the tiny Ozark town of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and the time my mom was serenaded by an Elvis impersonator at the country music show.

I’ll remember the glorious summer my parents and I toured Europe — dodging cars on narrow medieval cobblestone streets, standing in centuries-old Gothic cathedrals as light beams down through stained glass, discovering my love for Impressionist painters at the Musee d’Orsay. And I’d be negligent if I didn’t mention the hot and humid September afternoon my husband proposed to me on a glacial rock in Central Park after a picnic lunch of deli sandwiches and potato chips, and our tiramisu wedding cake the following June.

Our wedding day, eight summers ago. (Photo credit TJ Cameron).

Our wedding day, eight summers ago. (Photo credit TJ Cameron).

Even the summertime flops make for good stories — running down the side of South Sister in the midst of a lightning storm, sleeping in our car in Utah when our campsite was being sprayed with insecticide for its mosquito infestation, flying on a sketchy third-world airline that used hand-me-down Hawaiian airlines jets.

I want my daughter to grow up rich in memories too. A family vacation isn’t in the cards for us this summer due to a lack of money and vacation days as well as my daughter’s young age. But we can still have fun while staying here in Oregon. At two-years-old, my daughter probably won’t remember this summer anyway, so I suppose the memory-making this year is more for the benefit of my husband and I.

To help encourage ourselves to make the most of summer, we’ve created our family summer bucket list. I’ll be checking back at the end of the summer to report on our progress. My husband and I agreed on the late deadline of October 15 to complete the activities, since nice weather tends to last through mid-October in Oregon and we’re not particularly tied to the school schedule. The point is to have fun rather than give myself more things I feel obligated to do. WIthout further ado, here’s my list:

1.  Parent-child swim lessons
2.  Canoeing (without our daughter)
3. Lots of bike riding
4. Visit local farm
5. Get off the beaten hiking path (try some hikes outside of the immediate Eugene area — perhaps Blue Pool, Obsidian Falls…)
6. Portland road trip
7.  join CSA (Okay we’ve already done this. I confess the secret to success for to-do lists is to include an item you’ve already completed)
8. Visit Wildlife Safari
9. Watch fireworks (We never do this, because my husband always has to work at 5:30 am on July 5).
10. Attend a concert in the park
11.  Run in Butte-to-Butte race
12. Host 2 dinners (We love to cook and have friends over for dinner, but haven’t been doing a good job of this since moving to Eugene.)
13. Visit Crater Lake

Do you have a favorite summer memory you’d like to share? Or, do you have items on your personal summer bucket list?