A SONG FOR JANUARY

It’s January.
New calendars (mine is beachy)
New plans
New diet (ugh)
New courage for what lies ahead.

But somewhere around mid-month
the truth is glaring.
I’m the same old me.
Same failures
Same fears
Same battles.
My heart shrinks.
I am not enough.

And then I realize
the real problem.
All my attempts to do better
to be better
are filled up with me.

What I desperately need is more of Jesus.
New heart
New motives
New vision.

Not so I can glory in the new me
but in him who is making all things new
(including me)
until the entire creation
bows to his majesty and gives him honor.

He’s all about new
and not just in January.
Always.

New mercies, a fresh start, every morning.
Changing me day by day.
When I stumble over the rocks
of my selfishness
he reaches out to pull me back
return me to the path
if I will only take his hand.

It’s January.
Eternal God
Blessed Redeemer
Shepherd of my soul
making me new.

LADIES IN THE KITCHEN

The Thanksgivings of my childhood were large, glorious affairs, which would not have happened without The Ladies in the Kitchen, hard-working, magnificent cooks, for whom one of the main goals in life was to feed people. Food was love, and the more food the greater the love.

My mother had six siblings, all with families, and four of those families lived within forty miles of each other. So we spent lots of holidays with the whole crowd – up to thirty people – taking turns at each others houses. The assortment of aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, and cousins-in-law was a wonder to behold. The noise level was prolific, possibly approaching the decibel level of the New York Stock Exchange. People were everywhere, and the living room became an extension of the dining room. And of course the tables sagged under the weight of all the tasty home-grown food from everyone’s farms and gardens. After a prayer of thanksgiving from Grandpa, a prayer that made us feel God’s magnificence and holiness settling over us, we dug in to the bounty, stuffing ourselves to the gills.

In the traditional manner, the men lounged in the living room, both before and after dinner, talking mostly about farming and machines and the price of cattle. The ladies did all the cooking and cleaning up afterward. It was the way things were. But not a bad thing. Because there’s a companionship that exists only among men, and another companionship that exists only among women, and sometimes you need to allow space for it.

The Ladies in the Kitchen were doing more than washing dishes. And they weren’t annoyed at The Men in the Living Room for not helping in the kitchen. After displaying their culinary prowess, the ladies were busy bonding over the gravy-smeared dishes, the crusty baking pans, and the search for enough dish towels, all evidence of the stellar job they’d done feeding everyone. They were a nurturing community, laughing together, sharing news about their kids, and comparing turkey-cooking methods. The mammoth cleanup job was happily shared among women who loved being together. Then, as the shadows grew long and darkness fell on our day of thanks, it was time to get a slice of pumpkin pie and a cup of coffee, join the men in the living room, and keep talking.

I miss those days – the feeling of being part of a huge family, hearing everybody’s story in bits and pieces as I grew up, the tangible evidence of God’s provision, knowing these were my people. Many of them are no longer living, and the cousins have scattered irretrievably. But I gratefully remember the feeling of community. The Ladies in the Kitchen are largely responsible for that.

Time and circumstances have taken me far from those huge gatherings of childhood. I have two children, and they each have two children. A rather small crowd. But food is still love, and community is still important. Because God exists in the community of the Father, Son and Spirit, and we are made in His image, we need community, too. Being in a community, even with just one other person, gives life and health.

Thanksgiving is a celebration of thankfulness. You can be thankful by yourself, but it’s pretty lonely. As I’m reading through the Psalms lately, I’m struck by how often the writer gives thanks in the midst of God’s people, proclaiming God’s goodness in community. Here’s just one example – Psalm 35:18 says “I will give you thanks in the great assembly; among the throngs I will praise you.”

This Thanksgiving, get yourself a throng, even a small one. Invite a lonely person to be part of your throng. Feed each other with food and companionship and thankfulness. Tell each other your stories. Celebrate God’s goodness in each others lives. It’s what you were made for.

The Ladies in the Kitchen and The Men in the Living room would all approve.

MONOPOLY SENIOR

Ah, Monopoly, that endless board game. If ever there was a concrete illustration of eternity in the bad place, Monopoly is it. Recurring cycles of debt, running out of money, keeping track of all your property, mortgaging your property, hopelessness, despair, boredom, losing valuable hours of your life. So why am I back in the game these days?

It wasn’t my idea. On a Sunday afternoon, in an attempt to calm down two rambunctious boys after a wild and exhausting Nerf gun battle (in which I was an enthusiastic participant), my husband unearthed our old Monopoly game. Seriously? I asked. These boys are seven and four. The older is just learning to read. The younger is just learning to count to twenty, and has no concept of the value of money.

“Is this Monopoly Junior?” asked the seven-year-old. Monopoly Junior apparently has different rules than regular Monopoly, including an actual endpoint.

“Nope,” said Grandpa. “This is Monopoly Senior.” Which thrilled the seven-year-old. Monopoly Junior was suddenly passe.

Little did I know the appeal this game would have. Turns out both boys love Monopoly Senior, which feeds the universal love of acquiring money and property, and unmasks the greed in their little hearts. Since that inaugural Sunday, Monopoly has been a regular activity.

Each boy has a different approach to the game. The seven-year-old is all about owning as much property as possible so as to collect as much rent as possible from his opponents. But he has a generous spirit. When I ran out of money (because of paying a lot of rent, mainly to him), he sweetly offered me all of his. I refused, but he insisted. I paid it back when I passed Go.

The four-year-old is all about amassing piles of cash, which he does by refusing to buy any property until well into the game, when he observes the rest of us collecting rent on our properties. He obviously doesn’t understand the principle of spending money to make money. And if he hands the banker a $100 bill to pay the $75 Luxury Tax, and gets a $20 and a $5 as change, he believes he now has more than before he paid the tax. He gave the bank one bill and got two back.

Our emerging reader provides moments of levity, such as the first time he landed on Vermont Avenue and read it as Vomit Adventure. He was tremendously pleased with his error. Gross humor, dear to the heart of a seven-year-old boy. This is mild. I have other gross stories, which I won’t relate here, but one of them ended with two grandsons lying on their backs on the kitchen floor, at my feet, laughing hysterically at their own grossness.

My husband grew up playing Monopoly by throwing all tax money, fees, and fifty dollar bills used to get out of jail onto the middle of the board. The player who lands on Free Parking claims the wad of cash in the middle. This is something all players hope for, but only serves to make eternity even longer. Just when you think the game is mercifully winding down, someone lands on Free Parking and away we go.

But I am a capitalist, and I do believe Monopoly is good practice for the real world of capitalism. Here we learn the consequences of poor management – when you buy more property than you can afford (see greed above) you’re left with nothing to pay your debts and have to start mortgaging said property. When the seven-year-old achieved a monopoly and purchased the coveted hotel, he was smacked in the face with huge property assessments, and later with the realization that nobody could afford his exorbitant rent.

How do you stay in the game, build your assets and still have enough cash to pay your bills? This is Life Skills 101. And the whole idea of playing games, sometimes winning and sometimes losing, is an opportunity to realize that your essential worth as a person is the same whether you end the game with a lot, a little or nothing at all. This is hard to stomach when you’re the loser and the winner is rubbing his hands together, gloating, but it’s still true. Better to learn it early in life.

I’m hoping the Monopoly phase will pass. I find it horribly dull. brightened only by the enthusiasm of two hilarious boys, and the pleasure of spending time in their company. For that I’ll stick it out.

And here’s to Vomit Adventure, which will hereafter replace Vermont Avenue on my Monopoly board.