Advent and Narrative

My Advent-morning ritual is elongated today. All the fifth and sixth graders are off on various field trips, leaving me with only my high school class before noon. The coffee’s steeping (brewing? I know what we say for tea, but what does coffee do in a French press?!), candles are burning, and the tree is lit. Attempting for a moment to slow down and think.


A friend told me the other day that she’s afraid of blogging because of how personal it is. She’s written a few posts (to which I am privy), but she said she felt hindered because she didn’t want people to know things about her. [this is where I’m tempted to post a link to her blog, but I’d rather not die today]

She’s right, though. There is this strange reality that I haven’t really dealt with yet: personal histories being read by strangers.

Growing up, I was intensely private. I remember having a crush on one of the boys in town, and I didn’t tell a living soul. My sister begged me, pleaded, said she didn’t understand why I didn’t trust her. But there was no way I was letting anyone in on that secret part of my life. I thought it was foolish to open up to people, because you never knew when they would use that information against you. (I guess I was a cynical nine-year-old…)


Things have changed in the last decade or more. I think college had a lot to do with it. Living in such close proximity with peers, getting to know the ins and outs of roommates, friends, classmates, sometimes to the point of really not wanting to know ANYMORE. (I’m just kidding, guys. Bring me your woes, your fears, your strivings!) I came in as a freshman with no desire to open myself to the possibilities.

I was scared.

But I’ve realized that there isn’t much more to life than opening up to the possibilities. Isn’t that what God asks of us? Open yourself up to the possibility of being loved. Open yourself up to knowing Me. Open yourself up to the fullness of My blessings.

~     ~     ~

The best literature is honest. The best writing is the writing that gets at the core of it. I’ve read a lot of good writing, but the stuff that sticks in my mind, the words that have burned themselves into my consciousness, are the ones that spoke from the writer’s soul. That is what connects us.

I’m reading Wild, a memoir about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. The author, Cheryl Strayed, gets lost and attempts to find out where she is by using the graphs and maps and calculations in her guidebook. It doesn’t work. She’s not very mathematical: “I see things in narrative,” she says.

While I certainly value math and science, and even enjoy them sometimes, I come from Strayed’s view. I see things in narrative. I look back on the things that have happened in my life, the people I have known, and I see stories.

Now, blogging may not be for my friend. It does require a certain openness, a certain letting-go of oneself. I told her there were many ways to blog – to write. If she’d rather stick with the less-personal, she should!

But the stories are what connect us. They are what show us the brokenness in each other, but they are also what deliver salvation.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6 


Scrooge at a Christmas Concert

Last weekend, my sister and I went to our college’s Christmas concert. We met up with some friends of mine – my roommate and her boyfriend – and we sat on the side of the sanctuary, eager to see what our Alma Mater sounded like without us.

For four years I performed on that stage, up on rickety risers, in dresses of varying attractiveness (the black sacks they made us wear in Women’s Choir were pretty hideous). I sang “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” “On This Day Earth Shall Ring,” “Tomorrow Shall be My Dancing Day,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” and every year I remember the lights on my face and the full crowd of Christmas-ready people.

I was so excited to be back, to be watching. Lanterns hung from the ceiling over the stage, punched through with holes so when the room got dark, the lights inside would bounce off the walls. My roommate and I hadn’t seen each other in a few weeks (okay, not that long, I know), but we had a lot to talk about. Music, old friends, the concert, our lives. We laughed and whispered and talked. My sister joined in, too, all three of us chatting away in anticipation of the music.

Some prelude music began, soft and low. No conductor, no dimming of the lights, just simple mood-setting music. I laughed again, and the man in front of me turned around. Not just with his head. Not just with his upper body. He pushed away from the pew and rotated his ENTIRE BODY so he could look at us, and he said:

“Could you talk somewhere else?”

His tone was so demeaning, I was shocked. And embarrassed. I had certainly been enjoying myself, and that often entails a little loudness. We weren’t the only ones talking, though; everyone around us was chatting.

“The concert hasn’t started,” I said. I know I said it kindly because I can still feel the slightly scared smile on my face.

“Well, I hear music,” he said back.

My roommate quickly diffused the situation: “We were going to stop talking when the concert started, but we’ll stop right now.”

I was fuming inside. It would be one thing if he’d asked us kindly, assumed we didn’t realize we were disturbing him. But his body language and gruffness made it obvious that he thought we were stupid.

I kept thinking about the incident, thinking, Don’t let that ruin this, Catherine. Let it go.

I don’t remember the first few pieces, though, because I was consumed. I kept trying to let it go, but it filled my head and made me self-conscious, even when I shifted my body or rustled the program.

When the time came for the audience to sing (which I’d been doing internally since the concert began), I leaned over to my roommate and whispered, “Let’s blow this guy’s ears off.”

And we belted those Christmas harmonies like it was the last time we’d ever sing them.

He and his wife didn’t sing a word, just stood there silent and motionless. I would go so far as to say e-motionless.

So, I didn’t really stand up for myself. At the same time, I didn’t conquer him with an un-ruffled Christian spirit.

But I did sing his ears off.


(The concert was absolutely lovely, and I left proud of my school, lonely for music, and filled with joy. Take that, Scrooge.)

Christmas Joy at 6:28am

I woke up far too early for a Sunday morning. I was mad.

My alarm was set for 8:00 – the perfect amount of time to shower and get ready for a 9:30 church service. But the clock said 6:28, and there was no hope of falling back to sleep.

So I spent the first moments of Sunday, December 9th, realizing that I am entirely and completely not ready for Christmas.

Yes, our tree is up. Yes, I went to the Christmas concert at my Alma Mater this weekend, and yes, it was “aesthetically pleasing in every way.”

Yes, I went to the first Christmas party of the season last night. Yes, I have already eaten too many cookies.

But did I decorate the tree? No, I was at work.

Did I sing in the concert? Yes, but it annoyed everyone around me. (Just kidding. I contained myself.)

Did I bake the cookies? No, I just consumed them.

Today will be the day I regain some holiday spirit.


First step: coffee. I am not addicted. It’s half-caff.

Church. I am not really in the mood. But I will say, every time I have dragged myself there, every time I have prayed that God would open my eyes, it has been worth it. (It doesn’t seem worth it now, in my cozy pajamas with the candles burning and the tree lit…)

String popcorn and cranberries. Unnecessary, you say? I think not.

FIGURE OUT WHAT I’M GIVING TO PEOPLE. Oh. my. gosh. I have no idea what I’m gonna do. My little brother is leagues better than I am at gifts – he’s been done for weeks. So annoying. The only gift I have is a sweater I made my other brother (that thing counts as so many gifts, I’m set for years.)

Lesson planning. NOOOOOO!!! But I’m thinking of working mostly on Christmas songs in Latin. The grammar school kids have been begging me, and I have a sneaky idea of making my high schoolers carol around the school. (What’s the point of power if you don’t use it?!)

Music. I’ve had enough of this everyday music junk I’ve been listening to. Bring on Messiah.

Prayer. Scripture. How can I be surprised things feel so harried and “un-Christmas-y” if I haven’t taken the time to soak up the moments?

And, last but not least, family. Working six days a week is okay when you like your job, but that doesn’t mean other things don’t suffer. I can’t wait to sit on the couch with my family and watch a Christmas movie. Maybe a little Bananagrams, if they think they’re up for the challenge.

Is it hard for everyone to take a breather and enjoy this time of year? People have told me for years that it “goes so fast,” they can’t believe it’s Christmas, etc. etc. I just hope I can grab a little bit of the calm and joy.