live love breathe

April: a festival of poetry-because the words will save us

by Christie Shumate McElwee

When I taught high school English, I loved April. Yes, April brings tulips and daffodils and dazzling purple trees, but it also gives us National Poetry Month. During April my lessons often revolved around reading and writing poetry. I especially loved poetry slam days when the students would read their original work, some of which were both hilarious and profound. Along with Shakespeare’s sonnets and Robert Frost, I also introduced them to Joy Harjo, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Adrienne Rich. Poetry does not need to be complicated or dissected to death. I just wanted students to dive into the words and really feel the beat of the language. Some rolled their eyes, but others fell face first into the festival of poetry.

During my retired life, I have sought out more poetry. I follow The Academy of American Poets on Facebook and through email. This organization posts a poem a day and other articles about various poets. Yesterday’s poem, Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go gentle into that good night,” is a timely reminder of the preciousness of life. Brain Pickings, another site I follow, the curator Maria Popova writes about the impact of artists, including poets. It is where I’ve discovered Mary Oliver, Ross Gay, and Nikita Gill. Oliver’s gentle and introspective soul delivers simple comfort, especially during tough times. Gay expounds his “unabashed gratitude” through a garden of sweet and sad verses. Gill crushes the staid stereotypes in fairy tales and creates fierce new interpretations, inspiring children and adults to look beyond the ordinary and the expected.

There are so many poems I love, from e.e. cummings’ [i carry your heart with me (i carry it in)] to Emily Dickinson’s “Hope is a thing with feathers.” I collect poems like others collect salt and pepper shakers or glass figurines. Over the next month I would like to share some with you and write about how the words can trip and strut and shimmy into your hearts. A few may challenge your convictions; others may steady your anxious mind.

The first poem is “An Old Story” by Mary Oliver. Like many of you, I haven’t been sleeping well. I’m worried about EVERYTHING. Even my dreams nag me with distress. One of the things I have decided to do every morning, along with writing a page or two in my journal, is to read a few poems. I found this one today. It is as though she was there with me as I woke from my troubled sleep.

“An Old Story” by Mary Oliver

Sleep comes its little while. Then I wake

in the valley of midnight or three a.m.

to the first fragrances of spring

which is coming, all by itself, no matter what.

My heart says, what you thought you have you do not have.

My body say, will this pounding ever stop?

My heart says: there, there, be a good student.

My body says: let me up and out, I want to fondle

those soft white flowers, open in the night.

I am going to listen to my heart and body today by taking a long, socially distant walk in nature.

What are you going to do? Whatever it is, I hope you remember to live and love and breathe.

“An Old Story” by Mary Oliver was first published in A Thousand Mornings by Penguin Press, 2012. This version is from Devotions by Mary Oliver, Penguin Press, 2017.

CeCe’s Musings: The 13th Day

by Christie Shumate McElwee

CeCe’s Musings: A Resurrection of My First Blog Title

Random thoughts on Day 13 of social distancing, social isolation, quarantining, helping to flatten the damn curve, living moment to moment, still trying to figure out Zoom, and drinking all the wine.

  1. A sunny day makes all the difference. Rain…not so much.
  2. Coffee and wine have saved my life.
  3. After reading Stephen King’s The Stand, I’ve decided real news is scarier. Take that, King of Horror.
  4. Have I mentioned wine?
  5. Sitting on my porch swing yesterday, I had lovely conversations with two of our neighbors. Finally after three years of living here, I learned one of them is a physician’s assistant and the other has three cats. Still don’t remember one of their names, but we have time. Lots of time.
  6. Videos of penguins walking around zoos are everything.
  7. Grateful I like who I’m sequestered with during this time. Ever so grateful.
  8. Trevor Noah’s sofa, Jimmy Fallon’s daughters.
  9. Have I mentioned sun?
  10. Pondering cleaning out the freezer and under the sink. Pondering does not equal doing. I’m just saying…
  11. Sitting with the blues when they come over me. Giving myself permission to be sad, stay in my pjs, and watch endless episodes of Gilmore Girls.
  12. Grateful for my soul sister girlfriends. Our text threads has been both sincerely vulnerable and freaking hilarious. 
  13. Why can’t we all have FaceTime? Why can’t our phones just get along?
  14. Walking outside is weird as we all do that crazy “don’t you get near me” dance.
  15. Construction of a new house is still going on across the street, and I’ve discovered I don’t mind all of the noise. The constant hammering calms me. And the workers seem to be social distancing in the midst of the build. Kudos, boys. Kudos.
  16. I had cereal this morning. I haven’t had a bowl of cereal in ages and it was delicious. Yup, that’s my life right now: expounding the delights of cereal.
  17. Rationing toilet paper is literally a pain in the ass, and I am not one to aimlessly use that word “literally.”
  18. Trying not to go down the internet rabbit hole. Emphasizing “trying.” Not totally successful yet.
  19. Who else is recharging their phones at least once or twice a day? Asking for a friend.
  20. I am finding strength every day in the simple things: a former student helping out my mom, hearing my husband’s voice as he works from our basement, talking with my sons, and trading Lysoled (it is now officially an adjective) puzzles with a neighbor. 
  21. Never never never forget to love.

“The world is violent and mercurial – it will have its way with you. We are saved only by love – love for each other and the love that we pour into the art we feel compelled to share: being a parent; being a writer; being a painter; being a friend. We live in a perpetually burning building, and what we must save from it, all the time, is love.” – Tennessee Williams, who was born on this day, March 26, 1911.

The Beautiful Cruelness of Spring

by Christie Shumate McElwee

-Updated blog piece from March 2017-

(I wrote this piece three years ago after returning from a former student’s funeral. It was a heartbreaking service that gutted me. I pondered the irony of spring: its cruel beauty. How could a young person die in the midst of nature’s return to glory? Spring 2020 brings a new fear, COVID-19, yet offers me time for quiet contemplation. Today it rains and snows. Tomorrow the daffodils bloom. I left most of the writing intact and added two new paragraphs. I hope you are all safe, and hopefully soon we can all dance in the rain together.)

Spring is about new beginnings. Fresh pinks and yellows and greens sprinkle the landscape. 

But oftentimes spring is cruel. Storms fly in with screeching warnings from the sky. We scramble to basements, praying for safety.

Along with daffodils and blooming magnolias, spring also delivers ends. Disasters still happen. Tragedy still strikes. People still die. Hearts still break.

Spring is prom, Easter, bunnies, flowering trees, and new clothes. We clean our houses with a renewed energy. The windows fly open, inviting breezes to gently kiss the curtains.

But spring has also brought Columbine, Oklahoma City, Waco, and other tragedies. Our hearts have cried with pain for the fear and hatred lurking in the darkness of souls.

Spring 2020 brings a new cruelty to the entire globe. We are sequestered in our homes, attempting to stave off the spread of COVID-19. The experts call it flattening the curve. Businesses are shuttered. Students are learning online. Some have the privilege of working from home while others worry about loss of income. Doctors, nurses, first responders, grocery store employees, and restaurant workers delivering curb side service are all on the front lines. The numbers of sick and dying grow every day. Store shelves are empty. People are scared. We crave brave, honest leaders so we turn to Dr. Anthony Fauci, our voice of reason who speaks daily about the virus and what is being done to combat it.

No longer will we take for granted a leisurely al fresco meal on a warm summer evening, a crowded church service, or a raucous concert. For now, though, we stay inside and plan our future vacations and when we can hug our children and grandchildren again. The future, for now, is on hold. 

Spring is a reminder. While there is expectation and promise, endings lie in wait. Flowers peek through while a freak spring storm cancels out the remaining buds. We celebrate the joys of spring, knowing life is breathing its way back to us after a long winter, yet finales creep up and tap up on the shoulder to remind us of what it is to be human, to experience joy and loss in the same ragged breath.

Spring rains encourage growth. We smell the future in each drop. And even though we know a tempest could be brewing, we still hope. We still know love. We still dance in the rain. We still celebrate life.

This is spring.

This photo of a magnificently budding tree was taken a few years ago in my old neighborhood. The trees right now are just beginning to show themselves. We will wait.
The Stand: Revisiting Stephen King During Quarantine

“If we don’t have each other, we go crazy with loneliness. When we do, we go crazy with togetherness.” 

“The place where you made your stand never mattered. Only that you were there…and still on your feet.”

Stephen King, The Stand

I have chosen to reread Stephen King’s 1152 page tome during this time of self-isolation. The Stand first begins with a manufactured “superflu” spreading quickly throughout the world, killing 99% of humanity within a few weeks. The 1% who are immune to the bug begin to seek each other out, hoping to find companionship and hope from the terror they have experienced. Their nightly dreams are inundated by both kindly 108 year old Mother Abagail and the malevolent dark one, Randall Flagg. Some pilgrims end up in Boulder, Colorado, and others flock to Las Vegas. The story then turns into an epic battle between good and evil, acknowledging that most humans struggle with both.

Parts of The Stand are extremely dark, which is King’s trademark. The chapters of Flagg’s rule over his minions in Vegas are especially stomach-churning. When I first read this book in the eighties, I was drawn to the stalwart characters of Stu and Frannie, but now Larry Underwood pulls me into his journey. He reminds me of most of us, those who are messy and flawed and stumble through life wanting to be decent human beings but more often are just complete assholes. Larry, before the superflu, was a third-rate musician who had just recently found a little fame, but blew it on drugs and alcohol. He’s a jerk, and he knows it. He uses people, yet often feels a sense of regret. After the flu hits, he still can’t seem to do the right thing until he comes upon Nadine Cross and Joe, a troubled young boy. As they travel west and come across more people, Larry becomes their default leader they all turn to for guidance, and he slowly accepts the responsibility. He changes, and I admire how he struggles with it. Leadership doesn’t come naturally to him. Judge Farris says this about Larry:

“Larry is a man who found himself comparatively late in life,” the Judge said, clearing his throat. “At least, that is how he strikes me. Men who find themselves late are never sure. They are all the things the civics books tell us the good citizens should be: partisans but never zealots, respecters of the facts which attend each situation but never benders of those facts, uncomfortable in positions of leadership but rarely able to turn down a responsibility once it has been offered…or thrust upon them. They make the best leaders in a democracy because they are unlikely to fall in love with power. Quite the opposite.”

As I continue to make my way through The Stand, I ponder this quote and others in the book that remind me of our current global crisis. I think of the leaders who are stepping up, others who are scurrying into the corners, and those who are pointing fingers and accepting no responsibility for misinformation or denial of the seriousness of the situation. We are drawn to the wise voices, the intelligent and calm individuals who never asked for all of this, but still know how to mobilize and selflessly do what is best for all. 

None of us know how long the virus will last. We can’t even perceive the extent of the havoc it will wreak on our health, the economy, or our collective psyche. For now, we work at home, order take out from local restaurants, FaceTime friends and relatives, and read books.

Me? I still have only read half of The Stand, and even though I know how it’s going to end, I’m diving into the story of Nic and Stu and Frannie and Lucy and Glen and Tom and Mother Abagail who go to war with Lloyd and Trashcan Man and Harold and Nadine and Randall Flagg, because we all battle the demons within, but in the end, even if evil continues to percolate beneath the surface, I believe good is stronger and more powerful and will win. Lucy Swan says in best when she talks to Larry:

Her voice rose suddenly, rough with unexpected power, and for a moment his arms goosefleshed. “I just happen to think love is very important, only love will get us through this, good connections; it’s hate against us, worse, it’s emptiness.”

Stephen King wrote The Stand in 1978. The unabridged edition was published in 1990 and adds 400 pages that were originally cut from the first version. It also changes the setting date from 1980 to 1985. Randall Flagg, the antagonist of the story, is a recurring character in some of King’s later books, which conjures up John Steinbeck’s quote:
“It isn’t that the evil thing wins – it never will – but that it doesn’t die.”
Love in the Time of Corona

(Shout out and apologies to Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

by Christie Shumate McElwee

“The search is the meaning, the search for beauty, love, kindness and restoration in this difficult, wired and often alien modern world. The miracle is that we are here, that no matter how undone we’ve been the night before, we wake up every morning and are still here. It is phenomenal just to be.” ~Anne Lamott, Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair

I picked up Stitches, a small handbook of hope by Anne Lamott, in order to get myself through these troubling times. Now, one little book will not cure all my fears and panic, yet rereading Lamott’s wise, rambling, and comforting words gives me a calming sense of unity. You see, we are all in this crazy thing together, and even though we are sitting in our homes tucked away from exposure, we are connected. Ponder that.

We humans are social animals. We venture out of our caves in search of company, joining book clubs, gyms, and churches to find other humans seeking contact. When we are told not to socialize, it goes against all of our natural instincts. We introverts have our books and Netflix and we’re good, but others among us crave humans. Not in a vampire type way, but social interaction. Those extroverts out there may be having a more difficult time with this quarantine, so you might want to check in on them.

But, once again, we are all in this together. Don’t hoard the toilet paper or hand sanitizer. Do not post false or misleading information online. And for goodness sakes, stay out of crowded bars. Support local restaurants by ordering delivery or carryout. Offer help when needed. Call a friend or elderly relative. Be a decent human being, even though we are shut away. The internet gifts us a network of connections, but don’t get bogged down in the hype and negative energy. Step away. Meditate. Listen to music. Read a book. Cook a new recipe. Watch a classic movie.

These are extraordinary days we are living in at the moment. No one knows what will happen next. What we do have control over is how we treat ourselves and others.

Spread your awesomely messy love (but not your germs) to the entire human race.

You’ve got this.

“Love is the question. How can it possibly be enough this time, in the face of such tragedy, loss or evil? And it is the answer: It will be. How can this family or town make a comeback? The next action, the breath of time passing, love. Go figure.” ~Anne Lamott

(Note: I am going to attempt a blog piece each day of the quarantine. Don’t quite know what I will write about, but I hope you hang with me. Live gently, love madly, and breathe compassionately.)

“unabashed gratitude”

by Christie Shumate McElwee

This past Wednesday on the first day of Lent I drove to the Botanical Gardens to revel in the late February snow that blanketed our area. I wandered the paths, running into just a few other hardy souls. Walking the quiet park, I was struck at how different it all looked in the winter with no leaves to hide the beauty. I breathed in the peace, knowing that in a few weeks when the bulbs burst forth and the cherry blossoms show their glory, the place will be jammed with people wanting to catch the first glimpse of spring. So I walked briskly around the grounds, saving the warmth of the tropical Climatron for last. I even wandered through an orchid show, though I must admit their beauty and intricacies are lost on me.

I have decided during Lent I am gathering up small delights, seeing joy in snapshots. I am learning how to live as an observer, a scientist, a traveler documenting life’s enchantments. Seeing the daily minutia as gifts will help me dig my way out of winter’s darkness. It will remind me to stop, to appreciate, to know spring is coming. In the Christian faith, Lent is a time of fasting and preparation for Easter. In Eastern Orthodox circles Lent is known as the season of “Bright Sadness,” which sounds achingly appropriate. Spring does not come one day all dressed up in its finery. No, it slogs and drags its muddy feet. Spring teaches us patience. During the forty days of waiting, we spy proof of the magic that surrounds us. We grudgingly endure storms and acknowledge the particular cruelty of spring, but we also know it always comes bearing flashes of pink and purple and white.

Back in January I listened to an episode of the podcast “This American Life,” which addressed the subject of delight. For an hour the narrator recounted different perspectives of delight. One was a young boy’s joy at his first school bus ride. Another was the jubilant pleasure of an older widow’s search for the delight in her life. The narrator’s inspiration was the poet Ross Gay and his collection of daily essays in “The Book of Delights.” Gay tumbled through a tough year chronicling the small delights he observed. I was struck by how we can examine our daily lives, gathering joy from the simplest of things.

Now, four days into my journey, I have already amassed a bounty of delights: the noises Finn the cat makes while he sleeps, mornings spent in my cozy chair, finally finishing The Grapes of Wrath, a long afternoon nap, texting with my oldest friend Sheila, my yoga instructor Sarah’s sweet smile as she cues our practice, the gratitude that comes from a clean house, a surprise phone call from son Christopher, Saturday breakfast at our favorite coffee joint, and enjoying the fragile beauty of one of the last snows of winter. 

Small moments can grace us with delight, even among the shards of despair, conflict, and heartache, but only if we hold open the door and let our unabashed gratitude tiptoe into the room.

“…what do you think

this singing and shuddering is,

what this screaming and reaching and dancing

and crying is, other than loving

what every second goes away?

Goodbye, I mean to say.

And thank you. Every day.”

~Ross Gay, “Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude”

“I am going to try to pay attention to the spring. I am going to look around at all the flowers, and look up at the hectic trees. I am going to close my eyes and listen.” ~Anne Lamott

The Gift of Love

by Christie Shumate McElwee

It’s a frigid Valentine’s Day here in the Midwest, and most of us are hunkered down under heavy blankets trying to keep warm. Me? I am sipping hot coffee while pondering the perplexities of this thing called love. I have many questions and no real definitive answers. Billions of words have been written over the centuries on the subject. Poets, philosophers, and scientists have studied the heart, how it works and the countless ways it breaks. We humans claim to know love, but we continue to stomp on each other in the name of it. It’s staggeringly complicated and stunningly simple, this love of ours. All I know of it is that I am still learning, still practicing, and still offering up love. It is a journey I hope to never relinquish.

The dictionary definition of love mentions words like tender, passionate, attachment, and affection. Phrases like “Love wins” and “All we need is love” are often glib testaments to our total confusion of the meaning of the word. If only it were as simple as loving one another. Wars would end. Guns would be stored away. Hate would return to its grave. But, because we do not understand love, we stumble blindly through life, hanging onto jealously, fear, regrets, and pain. Those we understand. Those we can keep close. They are our identity, our stories. Love, though, is often hazy in its message. Do we want to be loved or do we want to love? Is it selfish or selfless? Do we set contingencies on love or do we offer it up unconditionally? Do we love naturally or does it require daily practice?

All I know is this…love is a mystery worth knowing. It is a feeling, a presence, a pricking at the heart. It’s worried days and sleepless nights. It is the infinite stars we can never count. It can break us into a billion fragments and sloppily repair our damaged souls with crooked stitches and sticky glue. Love is believing in our brokenness, and not surrendering to hopelessness, to cynicism, to despair. Love is an impossible puzzle with missing pieces and no instructions. It is a simple gesture, a hand to hold, a wish before blowing out the candles.

Love, in all its crazy incarnations, is the reason we are here. It offers us hope. It serves up joy. It is all we hold in our hands when the sun sets, this love of ours.

Love is a gift, both given and received. And as the years pass, I hold this precious love close to my imperfect heart, knowing it is all worth it.

The Gift

by Mary Oliver

Be still, my soul, and steadfast.

Earth and heaven are both still watching

though time is draining from the clock

and your walk, that was confident and quick,

has become slow.

so, be slow if you must, but let

the heart still play its true part.

Love still as once you loved, deeply

and without patience. Let God and the world

know you are grateful.

That the gift has been given.

A peek at my collections of hearts and books. Love is often scattered across pages, years, and memories. It is both comedy and tragedy, fire and water, and lost and found. I find love everywhere, if I bother to look up.

Reflections of My Dry January: A Month without Wine and Facebook

by Christie Shumate McElwee

I have never been been any good at New Year’s resolutions. I have the best intentions, but it is the follow through that stymies me. Eat healthier? Smoothie for breakfast. French fries for lunch. Exercise more? Yoga three times a week. Binge watch the entire first season of “Virgin River” in one day. Cuss less? Damn, that isn’t happening.

My husband and I have tried Dry January for the last three years. Neither of us made it through a week the first time. He went the whole month last year, but I gave up after eleven days. This year, though, I was determined to get through the entire thirty-one days without booze. I hadn’t gone that long since I was pregnant with my second son, who is now twenty-six. Yup, I do like my wine.

But….giving up alcohol didn’t seem like enough, so kooky me also decided to step away from social media for the month. If I was going to give up the lovely buzz of a glass of Chardonnay, then why not discover how it would feel to squash the mindless chatter and endless scrolling of Facebook and Instagram?

So, after deleting apps off my phone and drinking my last glass of wine on New Year’s eve, I spent thirty-one long and gloomy days without either vice. What did I learn? Am I a better person? Was it all worth it? Will I do it again?

Random reflections of Dry/No Social Media January:

  1. Giving up Facebook and Instagram was easier than skipping the alcohol. Seriously.
  2. What did I miss not being on social media? Birthdays. Life moments. Funny memes.
  3. What didn’t I miss? Comments. Comments. Comments. Did I mention I didn’t miss the comments?
  4. Booze was harder. I was fine for the first few weeks, but when a snowy weekend was forecast, I ached for a glass of wine. After a desperate trip to Friar Tuck’s, I did purchase two bottles of non-alcoholic wine. Review? The white was disgusting, but the red was better after adding a handful of frozen fruit and letting it sit for awhile. The big thing that was difficult to get around was the smell. Yuck. Sparkling water is still a better alternative, even though I did find an acceptable non-alcoholic St. Pauli beer.
  5. I was hoping to lose weight, but that didn’t happen. Phooey. Did I consume more calories to compensate for my booze-less life? Perhaps. Dang.
  6. I did sleep better. This is a huge benefit. Sleep and I have had a contentious relationship for years, and if stepping away from booze and social media helps us reconnect, then bravo!
  7. Not looking at social media for a month gave me a weird sense of privacy. I enjoyed the coziness of it, as if I had locked myself up in a cabin in the woods for a month with no internet connection. Nobody knew where I was. It felt warm and fuzzy. I may return to this cabin from time to time. It’s nice there.
  8. What are my goals now that it is February? I will limit my social media time. No mindless scrolling. No getting lost in the comments. No wasting precious time lurking at other people’s lives. I’ll treat myself to a glass or two of wine on the weekends and attempt to savor each sip. Moderation is a good thing, but I’ll also remember that a can of cranberry flavored Bubly will not wake me up at 1:00 in the morning with a headache and the sudden urge to down a bottle of ibuprofen.

Even though I had a few cranky days, I am proud of myself. Will I do it again? Ask me on January 31, 2020. I may have an answer for you. As for my February goals? I plan on writing more, drinking less, living in the present more, and wallowing in despair less. Seems doable. I refuse to let go of hope and love and grace, none of which are found in nasty comments on social media.

“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work. You don’t give up.” ~Anne Lamott

“Don’t give up trying to do what you really want to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong.” ~Ella Fitzgerald

Me, celebrating February.
Friday the 13th: A New Perspective

by Christie Shumate McElwee

Friday the 13th has garnered a bad rap over the years. There are a litany of superstitions surrounding “triskaidekaphobia” that have perpetuated the mythology of 13, resulting in many office buildings skipping the 13th floor, hospitals bypassing Room 13, and some airports omitting Gate 13. But why the number 13? Maria G. Valdez wrote in The Latin Times, “that in numerology the number twelve is considered the number of divine organizational arrangement or chronological completeness, as reflected in the twelve months of the year, twelve hours of the clock day, twelve gods of Olympus, twelve tribes of Israel, twelve Apostles of Jesus, the twelve successors of Muhammad in Shia Islam, twelve signs of the Zodiac, the 12 years of the Buddhist cycle, etc., whereas the number thirteen was considered irregular, transgressing this completeness.” 

12 good. 13 bad.

But what if we flipped the day and chose to focus on the optimistic aspects of number 13 instead of the dread?

After a little research, I discovered thirteen positive things to ponder today, Friday the 13th.

  1. The number 13 is considered lucky in Italy. And Italy has great wine and pizza….two of my favorite things on earth.
  2. The United State had 13 original colonies. Those bad boy founding fathers kicked ass and took names when they broke away from Britain.
  3. The 13th Amendment officially abolished slavery. 
  4. For followers of the Jewish faith, 13 is when a boy or a girl becomes a full member of the Jewish faith after completion of a Bar Mitzvah or a Bat Mitzvah. I attended a few of these celebrations back in junior high, and I must say dancing the Hora in my red velvet maxi dress is one of my favorite memories.
  5. Thirteen is the lucky number of the Great Goddess, and the number of blood, fertility, and lunar potency. Looks like this could be a charmed night for many fortuitous couples.
  6. The gift for thirteenth wedding anniversaries is lace. Lovely. 
  7. All members of the Apollo 13th mission returned home safely.
  8. The Hollywood sign was dedicated on July 13, 1923.
  9. Red brings more luck than any other color. Dig out your red sweater, socks, or even underwear. Make Friday the 13th the day to rock that red.
  10. It’s bad luck to clean on Friday 13th. Dust will have to wait.
  11. Pet a black cat today. Their purrs will bring you peace. My own black cat left this earth last year, but maybe I’ll visit one today in order to garner my own joy.
  12. My mom was born on the 13th of August, and without her, I wouldn’t be here and without me, my two boys wouldn’t be here. Thanks, Mom!
  13. A baker’s dozen is 13. Yum.

Richard Wiseman, a psychologist, suggested that believing in superstitions can be a way to avoid taking responsibility for your own failures. So, instead of fearing this day, sweep away the old thinking. Be the master of your own destiny. Decide for yourself what is good karma. Drink wine, wear red, and dance like no one is watching. At least that’s what I am going to do today. What about you?

“Here’s the thing about luck…you don’t know if it’s good or bad until you have some perspective.” ~ Alice Hoffman, Local Girls

image from betterbodydayspa.com
Facing Darkness/Finding Hope

by Christie Shumate McElwee

On the first day of December, I lit a candle, hoping the ceremony would brighten the gloom of a cold, windy morning. In the quiet I pondered the hectic past few days: the hours of organization and prep that led to family gathered around our Thanksgiving table, the crowds of shoppers my mother and I circumvented in the historic part of town on Friday, and the containers of leftover food still in our refrigerator. I sat in the stillness while listening to soothing traditional carols. I ignored my December to-do lists. A new morning. A new day. A new month.

December is the darkest month leading towards the shortest day. Even though bright lights twinkle from every street, melancholy often creeps into filled calendars of festivities. What can we do with our sadness when everything around us screams “Celebrate, damnit!”? Sometimes it is wise to sit with our grief, our brokenness, our mistakes, and slowly, quietly, and oh, so carefully, begin to forgive ourselves.

Maybe this is what Advent is all about: leaning into heartache, acknowledging pain, practicing hope. Many churches drape altars in purple during Advent, a color that denotes both royalty and repentance. During this hectic time, maybe we should wrap ourselves in that heavy purple. The darkness and weight of the material can remind us light is within reach. We forage for repentance, asking forgiveness for our snarky voices, petty minds, and selfish hearts. 

Maybe Advent is just an audacious feat of hope. Some of us find it in scriptures or a church pew. Others may hear it in a cat’s purr, the wind’s whisper, or Handel’s “Messiah.” Or perhaps it is discovered in the quiet of an early winter morning as one candle illuminates all the world’s despair…and wonder.

“Advent: the time to listen for footsteps – you can’t hear footsteps when you’re running yourself.” ~Bill McKibben

“The word advent means ‘expectation.’ What advent can do for us is create a sense of hope.” ~Louis Giglo

“Our response to the wrongness of the world (and of ourselves) can often be an unhealthy escapism, and we can turn to the holidays as anesthesia from pain as much as anything else. We need collective space, as a society, to grieve – to look long and hard at what is cracked and fractured in our world and in our lives. Only then can celebration become deep, rich and resonant, not as a saccharine act of delusion but as a defiant act of hope.” ~ Tish Harrison Warren, priest in the Anglican Church in North America and writer in residence at the Church of Ascension in Pittsburgh