Changes and chances

I spent Christmas Eve in Stamford, CT--that's right, the city Jim transferred to after Pam left him hanging in "The Office." When my family moved from South Africa in 1997 we settled there, spending the first two weeks of our new lives in a Holiday Inn before finding an affordable condo--one large enough for a family of five--a little way from downtown, where we lived until moving to our current location in 2000. With New York City just ten minutes down the highway, most of Stamford is made up of the commuter lifestyle, and as jobs in the city are not always so long-lived, there is a transcience and intractibility to life in Stamford that makes connections and a sense of "home" a bit nebulous and, to be honest, a bit futile. We found our way to a lovely little church, and found it to be a home in the busy-ness of city life. Even then, making friends always seemed a little pointless, as the length of any relationship was always in question, and for an eight-year-old who'd just done the Atlantic Hop--leaving all that was familiar and settled--maintaining a sense of detachment was the wisest approach. Best not get too close, right?
Returning to that church with my family for a Christmas Eve service was thus a strange feeling of belonging. Russell, a friend one year my senior, was pleasantly surprised to revisit old ties, "a blast from the past" the best caption we could offer for what seemed an out-of-body experience. An hour and fond memories later, we left the church with hearts full of love. As we pulled out of the parking lot, I asked if we could go back to some of the landmarks in our family history. So we drove past the Holiday Inn, the Ferguson Library, the hospital, the Holiday Inn, our condo at 56 Coldspring Road--all places of importance and memory, and as we journeyed through the bustling city (I love that city), we all pointed out things that we remembered ("that's the McDonald's where..."; "that's the place we always got our bagels..."; "that's where I got my first eyeglasses..."; "that's where Dad used to work...") and noticed things that had changed ("didn't that used to be an IHOP?"; "I can't believe that record store closed!"). The memories we retain are remarkable.
All things change, and no better place to learn than a city. I'm grateful for the history that I've gleaned from the hubbub of Stamford, but it's always nice to be remdinded of the people that are constants. And like Nichole Nordeman sings, we wander and waver until we "find a foothold that's familiar," and for me this season, that's family and friends--while I remember old ones, I invest even more in the present ones. As we anticipate the festivities of the New Year's season, it's good to keep in mind the footholds that are points of departure--memories to hold dear and people to love--but it's also good to live now. We celebrate He who calls us to remember, but also He who has come to make all things new.

Home is...

Finals are done!! After one too many pro-crastinated papers and one too few hours in which to study for exams, I am quite able to say that the fall 2009 semester has finished! (See the bottom of this post for some good studying/pump-up music.) The picture to the right is of my floor; we blew up a balloon for each of the finals we had to take/final papers we had to write and upon completion of each task popped the balloon. Needless to say, we were quite motivated to finish our academic responsibilities and come back to the floor to celebrate. :-) My roommate Carrie and I bid a bittersweet farewell this past Friday; we went to lunch at one of our favorite local places (The Atomic Cafe in Beverly--the BEST sandwiches and frozen lemonade!) before heading home--I the three hours to Connecticut and she the sixteen to Michigan.
Well, it should have taken me three hours; with all the traffic and accidents--I was right behind a collision--it took just under five, but a classic rock radio station kept me wonderful company, and I arrived home safely and unscathed. The Christmas tree that I wasn't home to cut down has already been decorated, and it's weird to feel like I've missed out a little bit on my family's celebrations. But I DID arrive home at the same time as a fruit basket that my floor sent me for Christmas. Grapes, strawberries, melons and pineapple were arranged in somewhat of a fruit bouquet, and didn't last too long with this hungry traveler...:-) This break will be a good one, and this is well-deserved. Apart from shenanigans with friends and festivities with family, I plan on getting some good reading in--East of Eden (John Steinbeck), The Dharma Bums (Jack Kerouac) and A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines (Janna Levin) have all been in progress for some time now, but it's always nice to have time set apart to engage in some literary indulgences.
My best this Christmas, as we all celebrate with great joy the incarnation of our savior who, as C. S. Lewis says, leaves all other renderings of the Messiah in ruins--this, THIS is Christ the King! Joyeux Noel, friends.

And now, my finals-success playlist--with links!:

1901 (Phoenix)
Suffragette City (David Bowie)
Idiot Wind (Bob Dylan)
Jet Airliner (Steve Miller Band)
Looking For Shelter (Good Old War)
Living in America (Aztec Two-Step)
Play With Fire (The Rolling Stones)
Laundry Room (The Avett Brothers)
This Baby (Steven Curtis Chapman)
Just Breathe (Pearl Jam)

It's Christmastime in the city!

Ah, friends, it's been a full week; please forgive the potentially long and rambling post--I just want to fit in a lot of goodness. Last Saturday I journeyed into Boston with my roommate and a dear friend for a concert by a group called "Good Old War." (Check them out here if you're interested in acoustic, folky music.) I found a song by them somewhat by accident back in September, loved what I heard, found out they were stopping by Boston and convinced my friends to adventure with me. It was incredibly worth it. The venue (The Middle East in Cambridge) was small and intimate--the audience was capped at around 15o and standing-room only--and so we were treated to an incredibly open and lively performance, with the crowd familiar with all the songs, often singing them louder than the band. It was amazing.
Last night I went to dinner at a professor's house with a few other students who are also teaching assistants for "The Great Conversation," and we had a wonderful time talking about our different lives and different interests, but were all gathered around a table enjoying the nourishment of good food (if you ever want to have a conversation about how much I believe in hospitality ministry, feel absolutely free to email me :-)). We waxed philosophical and silly on everything from the church in Europe to our gripes with the American educational system to whether we prefer cranberry jelly homemade or from the can at Thanksgiving. Good conversation is such a rarity, and it's always nice to find similarly curious and earnest souls.
Today my floor had an "in-retreat," which consisted of five hours of NOT DOING WORK, no cell phones, making baked ziti, cakes, garlic bread, and a journey into Gloucester to watch the lobster trap tree lighting-that's right: a lobster trap tree. Don't believe me? That's a picture of the whole thing up at the top, and a close up to the left, decorated with painted buoys and covered in lights.
While my girls and I froze our toes off, I remembered that amazing scene from Elf, and so I urged my friends to join me in a rousing rendition of a Christmas carol. And although we were drowned out by the crowd of rambunctious eight-year-olds chanting "Light it up! Light it up!," we huddled together for warmth and just enjoyed the small-town pride and joy of a town that once a year delights in gathering 'round a bunch of old traps...and got our token picture taken with Santa.

ransom captive Israel

With the first snow of the season well underway (we've a food four inches covering the campus in its brilliant whites), it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, complete with the rumblings of Christmas carols, the taste of cider and the donning of obnoxious Christmas clothing. Per that last point, my roommate and I have taken to dressing in our Christmas worst and sending seasonal facebook videos to our loved ones. This is perfectly permissible given the season's penchant for transforming even the most cantankerous scrooges into festive celebrants of the joys of Advent. My floor fellowship on Thursday consisted of decorating the floor with garlands, wreaths, stockings and ornaments, a hot chocolate indulgence and a discussion of our favorite Christmas traditions and songs. Many of my girls recalled cutting down the family's tree while others recounted Christmas eve candlelight services and culturally unique practices like finding a pickle hidden on a tree. My favorite tradition has always been driving around to look at Christmas lights. Back in South Africa we would drive into Johannesburg, where giant scenes played out in lights across the streets and between buildings, all pointing to the center of the city, where a giant and elaborately decorated tree awaited us.
The wonder of this season is never lost on me. With the myriad ways we celebrate Christ's birth, the joy and love of the season always translates into peace and hope. Hope that we will celebrate Christ's second coming soon, and peace that we can rest in the knowledge that he has already walked this earth. Today in church my priest (I attend an Episcopal church) was talking about the great seriousness of this season, and I agree with him. It's easy to get caught up in the romance and wonder of the season, but I'm of the opinion that this season has an inherent gravity, in that the celebration of Christ's birth is the response to our great sins; we mustn't forget that Christ had to come because we had turned so far from him.

With that in mind, here's a link to my favorite Christmas song--O Come, O Come Emmanuel--one that painfully and perfectly casts this season in its proper light. The death and shadows, captivity and mourning, exile and misery which we sinners deserve is replaced only by the Lord of Might, whose great power we celebrate this season in the form of a little baby. Rejoice, Rejoice!