Life has been full these last few days. My daughter from Seattle was here for a few days, and that time was delightfully packed with in-depth conversations, cutting and decorating a Christmas tree (she convinced me to actually have it inside the cabin this year, which turned out to be a good decision though I was dubious), and helping her get a resume and cover letter set up for a possible job ... then, wonderfully, having a positive response so that she actually had a phone interview while she was here, sitting up in my writing studio and jumping through hoops. It's such a joy to see the young woman she has become and watch her navigating her way in the world.
I also had my brother's dog here for a few days, and that was great fun as well. Callie is a laid back golden lab who loves to chase squirrels and has a lot of patience for being left at home for a few hours. (She's learned, even more than me, to value naps.) So having a dog becomes a good excuse for lots of long walks, for playing / wrestling on the carpet, for building fires and relaxing, for the delight of all these long trails through the snow. It's good.
Christmas activities abound around Decision Hills these days, of course. The children's Christmas program happened yesterday afternoon, so while the sun was setting I was out directing traffic and parking cars. Part of my not-so-secret delight in this event was sitting in the back of the packed sanctuary listening to some of the traditional carols and seeing children retelling the old, old story of Jesus' birth. Even as Herod, after the sack of Bethlehem and the slaughter of its infants, is in his spectacular death throes on the platform (something you rarely see in nativity stories these days, especially with the dramatic flair of this particular young Herod, while his gold-armored soldiers stood around looking helpless and he contorted and finally breathed his last on the steps of the platform) part of my mind was back at Faaberg in the days of my childhood, being a child and having this or that role in the Christmas program while proud parents in parkas looked on, while frost rimed the inside of the windows on especially cold years, while the Sunday School teachers stood in the back with an apple or a small bag of hard candy and caramel corn for each child after the program. Good memories, set to the strains of "Silent Night" and "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and "Angels We Have Heard On High" on the playlist in my mind. I love the traditional carols and the simple retelling of the biblical stories. There is a delightful incarnate beauty and a deep sense of community in those events as well -- the good will of humanity expressed in a tangible hug or gift or card, gratitude for the privilege of sharing life and ministry with people who have become so immeasurably dear. Community, partnership in ministry, the shared sense of both the gravitas and the hilaritas of this Jesus-following life -- these all come to the surface during these dark days of December, the temporal "thin place" of the downhill slope of Advent.
My brother and sister-in-law came last night to retrieve their dog. We chiseled holes in the ice and he fished for a bit, but we are convinced that unlike the sweeping V's of northbound geese that swept over our heads, the fish have all flown south for the winter. Or in the words of the old Ole and Sven joke, "There are no fish under the ice." I left for the Christmas program while they continued their vain piscine pursuit, and then we sat long into the dark, lit by the Christmas tree lights, curled up on our various pieces of furniture watching football, eating venison and pork and cheese and chocolate and talking about all kinds of great topics. What a gift. This morning we filled up on biscuits and duck eggs and walked the property, through the various buildings and up past the crosses, around the north end where my grapes grew this summer and down through the RV sites and back up to my cabin. It's a light, sunny morning full of the crispness of a mid-December day in Minnesota.
It's just funny, I guess, how roller-coastery my life gets sometimes. On the solid, good foundation of living where I live and an outstanding collection of people who love me so well, I am prone to the all-too-Scandinavian downsides of the December dark. But when I look back objectively at the last few weeks I have to shake my head in an amazed appreciation of all that is so good. It's a great reminder during the long evenings, something to ponder with joy while I walk out to listen to the ice groan and crack as it swells and shrinks in the cold. The night skies are brilliant in this darkest season of the year -- good reminder of the lovely points of burning starlight God has placed in my life, and how grateful I am for every bit of it.