That Holy Shadow

I love Christmas. I love the surprises. I love the scents. I love the giving (and, I must admit, the getting). I love the decorations and the music and the events that are unique to the rest of the year. I love Advent calendars and I love the general feeling that this is a special time. Something is different. This is a time set apart to celebrate.

Spiritually speaking, to be “set apart” is to be sanctified. To be holy. And indeed, the very best thing about Christmas is that it’s a holy season, a season to step back from the usual and focus on Jesus.

And I don’t just mean the baby Jesus. That cute little infant in the paintings; the Jesus of the nativity scenes and Sunday School programs and youthful memories. No, the Jesus I mean is the grown-up Jesus. The Jesus who has hard teachings. The Jesus who threw out the baby with the bathwater when it came to following rules and obeying the traditional law. The Jesus who gave up his right to be right, humanly speaking, because he knew he was right, spiritually speaking.

That Jesus is harder to embrace. That Jesus is rejected. That Jesus is spat upon by Romans, Ancient Hebrews, and modern day philosophers, be they suit-clad in higher institutions or blanket-clad in gutters…or flannel-clad in cozy homes and offices and check-out counters and yoga class.

That’s the Jesus the little baby turned into.

I know that Easter is the “hard Jesus” season. The season with the brutal images and the repentant sinners, hanging upon their various crosses. But the truth is, I want to live my Christmas in the far-reaching shadow of Golgatha, because that’s what this sanctified season is truly all about. The baby came because the man was going to die. He knew that from day one. From minute, from second one. He didn’t come into this knowledge as an adult, he told his parents as a 12 year old, “didn’t you know I needed to be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49). They didn’t fully understand, yet we know that Mary, “treasured up all these things in her heart” (vrs. 51). All the little things. The annunciation: “you’re going to have a miraculous baby”; the telling of her news to Joseph: “Surprise!”; the birth in a stable, the shepherds and angels and eventual Magi; the growing-up years; the ultimate revelation of who he was at the wedding at Cana; the final days and hours and minutes, standing at the foot of the cross, watching her son die for the wicked world which did not understand.

Those are the moments she treasured up. It didn’t matter that she didn’t really “get it”. What mattered was that she treasured. She contemplated. She put two and two and one million little things together and came up with belief in a man who was the Savior of the World. Belief that this human being, whom she had birthed, was also God. Deity incarnate. The Devine human.

Sanctified. Set apart. Holy.

And so, I live in that holy shadow at Christmas. Yes, I love the season. Santa Claus, candy-cane-stripes, presents, songs about red-nosed reindeer. But the reason I love it all is because it has been made holy by the presence of the man upon the cross. The man who forgave — and continues to forgive — me of my many sins. And, equally true, who forgives you of yours.

Merry Christmas, dear friends. May the joy and the shadow co-exist in your celebrations this season, pointing you to the one who loves you more than you can possibly imagine.

The heart of Christmas

My earliest Christmas memory — a memory I know is mine and isn’t just from family stories or photos that make me think I remember — is me, age 10, I believe, so impatient and anxious to get to the important business of unwrapping gifts but having to wait for my sister to get off of the ferry boat because she’d had to work the night before on the mainland and therefore couldn’t arrive home to Orcas Island, Washington, until Christmas morning. I must have been quite a pest because Mom sent me with Dad to drive the 35 minutes to the ferry dock to pick up Kris, knowing that the enforced hourish away from the beckoning Christmas tree would give her peace and me something else to think about.

I’m not sure that it did give me something else to think about because I remember pouting all the way there and all the way back, but then, finally, oldest sister returned to the fold, we were home, breakfast was ready, and we could get down to the agenda of the day.

I can’t tell you most of what I received that year. Books, for sure. Puppets, possibly. Probably some Lego. Clothes, handmade by Mom, and that could have been the year I received an Instamatic camera from my grandparents with film that was two years expired.

But I do know for sure, that was the year I received my dollhouse. I had been banned from the loft above the kitchen for weeks, knowing that something more than just secret sewing was going on as sewing machines didn’t make sand-paper noises, or require anyone other than Mom to shut themselves away for hours at a time. I imagined all sorts of things — a book shelf, a birdhouse (though why I’d have been receiving one of those I’m not sure) — anything to keep me from imagining a dollhouse because what if it wasn’t that and Christmas morning would come and I’d be heartbroken because my imagined house wouldn’t be there, waiting in all its glory beneath the Christmas tree.

But it was a dollhouse. Three stories high. A kitchen off to the side. Wallpapered with wrapping paper and inhabited by tiny people my mother made and furniture made from upholstered match boxes. It was all I had secretly dreamed of and more, even if it was incomplete. That just meant I was able to help put it together, which was also fun.

I kept that house for years, finishing some architectural details that the arrival of Christmas had thwarted, installing new furniture over time, adding dishes and doormats and plastic chickens. I borrowed baby Stevie from my Sunshine Family dolls and he lived happily in a second story bedroom. I finished painting the front railings just about the time we had to put it into storage, the year I turned 16. I knew I’d miss it in my new German bedroom.

Four years later, having left West Germany behind and returned Stateside, a truck arrived with Mom and Dad’s things that had been stored away for all that time. A huge box was placed upon the grass, DOLLHOUSE scrawled across the lid in bold Sharpie.

“Where do you want this?” the man asked, indifferently.

“Just leave it right here for now,” Mom replied, handing me a box cutter. I think she was as excited as I was.

We sliced the tape, folded back the lid, and there it was.



Literal sawdust.

Literal holes.

I turned away, unable to face the shock on Mom’s face. I brushed past oblivious moving men, went into the upheaval of my room and shut the door, flinging myself upon my bed. I cried that day. For far longer than one might think a 20 year old should cry for a broken dollhouse.

It had been a cherished hope. A wonderful surprise. A time-consuming art piece. A creative outlet. A miniature world. The one thing I had missed the most, and looked forward to with the coming of that great big van.


I wonder, sometimes, if that’s how God looks at His world. He anticipated it; He made it; He saw that it was good. He cherished it; He watched it; He set it up to succeed.

Yet still it fell. Still it failed. Still sin entered in.


And so He sent the angel.

So He sent His Son.

So He came to save us.

And as we fling ourselves upon our beds in our misery, we fling ourselves upon His mercy, and that wee tiny baby takes hold of our hearts.

“What shall I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would give a lamb. If I were a wiseman, I would do my part. But what I can, I give Him. Give my heart.” – Christina Rossetti

(All photos curtesy of my dad. The angel is me, by the way, circa 1976?)

The bone maker

I’ve been thinking a bit about bones lately. Aching bones. Turkey bones. Dem bones. 

As far as aching bones are concerned, my fingers sometimes remind me that I’m almost 51 and it’s going to rain, only it’s been a dry year, so I’m not sure if I’m imagining it or if I really am getting arthritic in my (not so very) old age.

When it comes to turkey bones, however, I have a better grip on my knowledge. My mom was a magician when it came to turkey bones. The day after Thanksgiving she’d be back in the kitchen, removing every last vestige of meat from the once glorious turkey and plopping it into the largest cooking pot we owned along with an onion or two, celery, carrots, a bay leaf, salt and peppercorns and a whole lot of water. That thing would go on the back burner and simmer all day, coaxing out the goodness of the bones.

It always amazed me how Mom could make something out of nothing. 

This year I cooked down the turkey bones, too. I don’t do it every year. Sometimes I stick it in the freezer, meaning to get to it later, and then, along about Memorial Day, I disinter its forgotten and freezer-burned carcass from the bottom of the deepfreeze, give it one look and toss it in the garbage. 

But not this year. 

I pulled out my largest cooking pot. I wrestled with the greasy remains. I chucked in onions, skins and all, along with some celery seed because I was out of celery and all the other mystical ingredients and seven hours later I, too, had made something from nothing.

Last night we had turkey soup with dumplings. I’m pretty sure it was the best such thing I’d ever made. There is a pitcher full of broth in the freezer for another day. A few smaller containers for recipes. Each one gelatinous, healthy, magical.

Something from nothing.

“Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones…” I don’t know if that song is politically correct these days or not, but I like it. Ezekiel prayed and called an army of bones into the service of God! Talk about something from nothing. It’s a little-recalled Old Testament Bible story, but wow, it’s a good one. My guess is it’s not taught often in Sunday School these days – too strange, too scary for children – but the truth of it is golden: God can take dried up old bones and turn them to His service. Rheumatic old bones. Freezer burned bones.

Kinda makes me realize that even stuck at home in the middle of a pandemic, there’s a place for me in God’s plan. It’s never too late. We’re never too old. God can use our dusty selves.

He’s the maker of our bones, after all.

“Now hear the word of the Lord!”


I believe!




I grew up on an island in Washington State, in a cliff-top house with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the ocean. Straight across the water stood snowy Mt. Baker, which coughed up steam from time to time for our amusement.

Orca whales would breach in the water off our beach, their sighs loud enough to be heard from our deck. Bald eagles loved to sit in the dead snag on the edge of the cliff, and we’d watch seagulls dive-bomb them in a blatant display of gang warfare.

It was an amazing place to live, and I miss it.

As a result of that upbringing, vast expanses of view are as necessary as breathing to me. Luckily for me, I can find this on the prairie.

Unluckily for me, the prairie views don’t include mountains or whales. Though I do love catching sight of eagles from time to time.

More than once, in an insanely optimistic flash of joy, I have caught glimpses of mountains on my Minnesota horizon only to have my hopes dashed moments later when I realized that those mountains ranges were just clouds, heaped up like Trompe l’oeil paintings set out to fool gullible girls like me.

I have lived in Minnesota for 26 years. You’d think a girl could learn.

Recently I re-read Genesis and Exodus and I was struck by the thick-headedness of the Israelites.

“How we long for the leeks and cucumbers of Egypt,” the Israelites said over and over. “There is nothing to eat except this manna!”

This miraculous, God-given manna. What a total drag.

Did they not remember that they were slaves in Egypt! How easy it is to forget. How easy it is to disdain the miracles of God.

Am I guilty of forgetting? Do I scorn God’s provisions? Am I just like the Israelites?

Yes, I admit it. There are days I long for the leeks and cucumbers or, rather, the mountains and whales. I have scorned the flatness of the prairie, grumbled at the ever-present prairie wind.

My husband, Minnesota-born and bred, says I need to learn to find beauty in shades of brown. I say that takes more faith than I can muster up, some days.

But I’m learning.

Here, in the land where whales are rubber bath toys and Tide is a cleaning product rather than an oceanic process, I am discovering that fields of waving grass are simply a different kind of ocean. That the glory of a long-awaited spring is even more miraculous for the waiting.

I am discovering that I love watching the seasons pass in the furrows, seedlings, and eight-foot tall corn stalks. I can’t wait to see the mist of green sprouts spring up in the fields surrounding my house! I am choosing to find the beauty. Choosing to set aside my Israelite tendencies.

As it is said, “I believe! Help me in my unbelief.” Mark 9:24