Epiphany 2014: Voice of Blessing

Christmas with Cox Fam 2013

Christmas with Walkers 2013

Christmas with Cox Fam 2013

I have two nieces and a nephew. I was intent on getting a couple good photos over the holidays. Ezra, my nephew, must have known how badly I wanted the perfect shot of him because he resisted it like nobody's business. I had to settle for these mischievous little eyes peeking over the pillow.

Without going into detail, it's safe to say I've had some low-level anxiety the past few weeks about work, loose ends in a few endeavors and relationships, and uncertainty about what 2014 holds. My question to myself is, "How can I attend to my anxiety in a way that makes me a more compassionate mother, wife, friend, and consultant?" The worry is there--there's no virtue in ignoring it. But there's wisdom in noticing it, having some little talks with myself, and praying more than normal.

Emily posted this Henri Nouwen quote:

The real "work" of prayer is to become silent and listen to the voice that says good things about me. To gently push aside and silence the many voices that question my goodness and to trust that I will hear the voice of blessing--that demands real effort.

It's funny how anxiety sends me right back to square one about whether I'm a worthy competent person or not. Nouwen reminds me about the voice of blessing that's trying to be heard.

And being around kids? That reminds me, too. Today, Loretta asked if we could stop playing Cash Register (absolutely her favorite game) and snuggle instead. Yes, please.

Epiphany 2014: Making and Growing

Christmas with Walkers 2013

My sister-in-law Kelly brought a dozen of her chicken's eggs to our annual white elephant gift exchange, grabbing them on the way out of the door. Of course the kids traded their gifts for other things (silly socks, toys) but I fought for these.

When we grow, make, or share things, we're giving an intimate gift. And it doesn't have to be perfectly wrapped or presented like Pinterest would have us believe. If you make a batch of cookies, take 2 over to your neighbor on a napkin. If you bought a huge brick of cheese at Costco, cut off a chunk for your friend. For a hostess gift last night, I rinsed out a little bottle that my hair serum had been in, went outside to cut a few sprigs of juniper, and tied a ribbon around the neck of the bottle. What we want most is to be thought of. There are lots of ways to do that without getting out a credit card.

Epiphany 2014: Look Up

Christmas with Walkers 2013

This week, I've heard several media sources quoting a study that says people who are on their phones constantly are more anxious.

That makes sense to me. Too much stimulus, too many things we're supposed to like or not like, too much urgency and not enough nuance. The great big world reduced to a few inches.

The epiphanies can't happen unless there's an observer, a participant. On one of our Christmas walks with family, Katie took my camera for awhile. I always love downloading photos after my camera has been with someone else. She took this photo right before the light left. In our five hours together that day, I don't recall one person on their phone. Three cheers for looking up.

Epiphany 2014: There Must be Some Mistake!

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From W.H. Auden's Christmas Oratorio, For the Time Being:

For the garden is the only place there is, but you will not find it
Until you have looked for it everywhere and found nowhere that is not a desert;
The miracle is the only thing that happens, but to you it will not be apparent,
Until all events have been studied and nothing happens that you cannot explain;
And life is the destiny you are bound to refuse until you have consented to die.

Therefore, see without looking, hear without listening, breathe without asking:
The Inevitable is what will seem to happen to you purely by chance;
The Real is what will strike you as really absurd;
Unless you are certain you are dreaming, it is certainly a dream of your own;
Unless you exclaim -- "There must be some mistake" -- you must be mistaken.

What do those annoying English majors call it when they dissect a poem? Explication? Don't do that with Auden's masterpiece. Maybe just say it out loud to yourself, see how it sounds. What sounds beautiful to me is the last line: Unless you exclaim--"There must be some mistake"--you must be mistaken. To have so many blessings, so many companions, and a camera to capture them with this Christmas? There must be some mistake.

For you liturgical folk, we're entering into the Season of Epiphany. Epiphany means "manifestation" or "striking appearance," and the Church feast day commemorates the visit of the Magi to the Baby Jesus and thus Jesus' physical manifestation (God in human flesh) to the world--skeptics, magicians, rulers, shepherds, and lepers. Whether that's your thing or not, these 12 days between Christmas and January 6 can be a time of manifestation if we let them--What's trying to happen in our lives? What are the things we need to say "yes" to? What needs a firm "no?" What miracles are already happening?

For the time being, as Auden would say, here are some Christmas moments:

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Merry Christmas

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As promised, I've posted for 25 days in a row. I've learned I want to start carrying my camera around again. I've learned I have something to say every day and it doesn't have to be profound. And that the discipline of something every day isn't overrated. There are more things I want to do every day--meditate, spend at least 10 minutes being completely attentive to each of my children, make my bed, sing.

And I've remembered how much I love Christmas. I was humming "O Little Town of Bethlehem" tonight and got to the lines, "Be born in us tonight." It's not just about a night in history. It's about the birth of God in us every day. It's about Saint Catherine of Genoa shouting in the streets, "My deepest me is God!" Beyond the fears, failures, and fear of failure. Beyond our personalities, our histories, our ambitions. Beyond anything we ever do or don't do, anything we get right or get wrong. Beyond our roles as mothers, fathers, wives, professionals. Beyond all that, underneath all that, my deepest me, your deepest you, is God. And that bedrock will never give way or crumble. And it doesn't have to be built. It's there, solid and strong, but we've got to drop into it. Richard Rohr says that love is anytime we relinquish control. There's no descending to that deepest place without letting go of the rest of it.

This Christmas, the God in me bows to the God in you. Thank you for being here.

Advent 2013: Kitchen Misadventures

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I was thumbing through the cookbook Keepers recently, and the authors say one of their strategies for overwhelmed beginner cooks is to recount their own kitchen failures. It helped the novices have more realistic expectations and keep trying. If you're in that place, today is for you. Here's a recap of my day:

1) I made Molly Wizenberg's caramel corn with salted peanuts. Thankfully, it turned out as beautifully glossy and addictive as ever.

2) I poured myself at least 8 cups of coffee which all went cold and missing.

3) I made the custard for my traditional Cranberry Cognac Trifle. Twice. The first time, I used whole eggs instead of just yolks. Big curdled mess. 30 pans and 20 eggs later, I made it right.

4) I finally stopped for breakfast. Leftover black beans and roasted squash from last night with an egg on top. Delicious. I left the skillet on with a silicone spatula in it.

5) I couldn't find my toffee recipe (why didn't I think to look here??) so looked something up online. It didn't include water, which meant it heated up too quickly and became a big coagulated mess. I won't tell you what Wyatt named it since this is a food blog. Dumped that out. A whole pound of butter!

6) Made it again. This time, perfection.

7) And my kids will remember this one forever. I filled up our ELECTRIC teakettle with water, put it on the gas burner, turned it on high and walked away. Wyatt alerted me to a fire a minute later and to the rubber dripping all over the stove. The whole house still smells like an electrical fire, and I can hardly function 5 minutes without that kettle. This will probably be the highlight of the kids' Christmas.

8) Also made cranberry jam, cognac syrup, and sponge cake for the trifle.

9) Yancey suggested we go out for dinner. Love that man.

And then we put on our headlamps, took the dog, and went for a night hike. Much as I love my kitchen, it felt wonderful to be out of it, under the stars, laughing about all the days catastrophes.

I haven't had a day like that in a long time. It reminds me why cooking is so frustrating or terrifying for lots of folks. You spend money on ingredients, a crapload of time trying to get it right, and end up dumping the whole thing in the garbage.

But Emily was still here keeping me company, and I got to flit around while Wyatt played games with Yancey and Loretta painted her fingernails. I guess that's worth a lot more than perfection.

Advent 2013: Soul Sister

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Over the 12 or 13 years I've known Emily, many people have asked, "How did you two meet?" I think what they mean is, "How do you stay so connected to one another?"

Then I tell the story of how we met at a mutal friend's wedding, got put in the same room at the bed and breakfast, and stayed up crying about how beautiful it was to love and be loved. We said we'd get together for lunch once we were back in Seattle. The miracle, maybe more than anything, is that we did. (And this, by the way, is perhaps my biggest tip for forming friendships. Initiate and follow up. Get our your *%$ calendar. Puget Sounders suck at that.)

And the miracles keep coming--her being Wyatt's godmother and there when Loretta was born, constantly reading my mind (or knowing before I do) what book needs to come into my life next or what compliment I need. And the letters. I have boxes of hers, she has boxes of mine. I want to make a book of them one day. Not just the text typed onto a page, but her beautiful architect's handwriting and the things she manages to make envelopes out of.

At this point in our lives, with 90 miles between us and so many things competing for our attention, time together is the best gift. When she leaves tomorrow afternoon, we'll have shared 2 breakfasts, 3 lunches, and 2 dinners. That's my love language for sure.

Happy 2014, sister. Thank you for our years together and all those to come. I love you.

P.S. Thanks to Wyatt for the photo. It's hard not be pretty loosened up when he's got his finger on the shutter.

Gingerbread Pear Bundt Cake

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What is up with me and my baked goods lately? So much for kale and brown rice. It's Christmastime.

Like I've said before, I love the "cut and come again" nature of a bundt cake. Leave it sitting on the counter, have a little sliver with tea in the afternoon, have some more with coffee tomorrow morning.

Emily and John are here for the weekend, and I like to spoil them. I was happy there were lots of slivers snuck through the afternoon.

Gingerbread Pear Bundt Cake
There are so many superlatives floating around food blogs these days that I hesitate to add to the mayhem. But this cake is GOOD. You'll wake up in the morning wanting a piece.

For cake:
2 1/2 c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2 Tb. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
2 Tb. cocoa powder
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground pepper
1 1/4 c. packed dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 c. water
2 Tb. grated fresh ginger
1/2 c. white sugar
1/2 c. vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1/2 c. molasses
2 large Bosc pears, peeled and very thinly sliced

For glaze:
3 Tb. butter
4 tsp. milk
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 c. powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour a bundt pan.

Combine first 8 (dry) ingredients in a medium bowl. Combine next 8 ingredients in a separate bowl (brown sugar, baking soda, water, fresh ginger, white sugar, vegetable oil, eggs, molasses). Add dry ingredients to wet, stirring just to combine, then add sliced pears.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 45-55 minutes until a tester comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 20 minutes, then turn out on a plate. Let cool for an hour before icing.

To prepare glaze, combine butter, brown sugar and milk in a saucepan over low heat until just melted. Take off heat and cool a bit, then add powdered sugar. If it's too thick, thin a tiny bit until it's pourable. Pour over cooled cake.

Advent 2013: Christmas Grumpiness

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Finally! The Leftoverist admits her Christmas Grumpiness!

We had a magical snowy morning in Bellingham. School was cancelled (yes, for 2 inches of snow), I didn't have to drive to Seattle for work, and there was nothing to do but sleep in, drink coffee, and sled with the neighbors. It was perfect.

THEN....Then we came home. The house was a mess (still is, actually) and I realized how many annoying little tidbits were still on my Christmas list. And worst of all, Loretta wanted me to do a craft with her! How dare she! What is this? A snow day?! Even if I manage to avoid all the tasks on my list, I reserve the right to at least act busy. And this is no joke--I actually resented that the kids went outside again and started collaboratively and joyfully building a snowman. I wanted help with chores.

We saw our dear friends Jen and Jason tonight. I was telling Jen about my day and she said "I'm here to keep you honest. Your blog is like a religion to me, but I know it's hard to practice what you preach sometimes." Amen, sister. She reminded me not to sweat the small stuff, and that's my resolve for tomorrow. Wouldn't it be horrible if time wasn't divided up into days? If there was never the relief of starting over?

Somehow, I had the presence of mind to get my camera out and take this photo, which will live much longer than my bad mood.

Advent 2013: Perseverence

Kermit

You know this posting-every-day thing must be getting hard if I'm taking photos of stuffed animals.

I didn't grow up watching TV, so I missed out on the Muppets. But I fell in love with Kermit when the new Muppet movie came out a couple years ago. While lots of people were nostalgic for him, I was talking about him like I discovered him. Once I get excited about something, watch out.

I keep this little guy in my office to remind me not to give up. Remember when the crew gets together, finds Kermit's decrepid mansion, and convinces him to help save the Muppets studio? And Kermit at his dusty desk, going through his old Rolodex trying to find a celebrity to host the show? Love that little guy and how he brought out the best in his friends and kept trying.

Like most of you, there are some things and people in my life I feel like giving up on. The days are about to get longer (Finally!), and I think Kermit would sidle up to me and tell me to keep going. I can't resist him.

Advent 2013: As Much Reality as you can Handle

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If you are my husband or one of my children, you are sick to death of me quoting Richard Rohr, my favorite spiritual teacher. But I can't help myself. Today's reflection is from him, and it's mind-blowing. Here's to living in reality.

Contemplation is meeting as much reality as we can handle in its most simple and immediate form, without filters, judgments, and commentaries...The only way you can contemplate is by recognizing and relativizing your own compulsive mental grids—your practiced ways of judging, critiquing, blocking, and computing everything.

This is what we are trying to do by practicing contemplative prayer, and people addicted to their own mind will find contemplation most difficult, if not impossible. Much that is called thinking is simply the ego’s stating of what it prefers and likes—and resistances to what it does not like. Narcissistic reactions to the moment are not worthy of being called thinking. Yet that is much of our public and private discourse.

When your mental judgmental grid and all its commentaries are placed aside, God finally has a chance to get through to you, because your pettiness is at last out of the way. Then Truth stands revealed! You will begin to recognize that we all carry the Divine Indwelling within us and we all carry it equally. That will change your theology, your politics, and your entire worldview. In fact, it is the very birth of the soul.

(Adapted from CAC Foundation Set: Gospel Call to Compassionate Action (Bias from the Bottom) and Contemplative Prayer (CD, DVD, MP3))

Roasted Almond Thumbprints

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I guess it's more cookies around here.

Roasted Almond Thumbprints
I've made many verions of thumbprints in my life, and I like them all. But the roasty flavor of the almonds in these and the AMOUNT of almonds makes them especially delicious. The recipe says refrigerating the dough is optional, but I found I needed to to firm mine up. And I've learned from Alice Medrich that cookie dough is almost always improved by a little refrigeration time.

Recipe


Advent 2013: Lessons from First Graders

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Loretta's first grade teacher, Ms. Brown, has too many good qualities to list. One of them is her great communication with parents. In her monthly letter for December, she listed the 20 areas the class is focusing on. I wish I could post them in lunchrooms, board rooms, and family dinner tables all over the world. Some of my favorites:

  1. We take pride in doing our best at all times.
  2. We are becoming skilled at waiting our turn and not interrupting.
  3. Because of our buddy class, we are learning to have friendships with older students.
  4. We understand the power of the words "Please," "Thank you," and "I'm Sorry."
  5. When we see a friend in need, we are quick to give help.
  6. We know the importance of staying on task and completing a job.
  7. We are enjoying playing with old friends and making new ones.
  8. We have learned that singing makes us happy and builds community.
  9. We are now skilled at making "I statements" when our feelings are hurt.
  10. We know the meaning of the word "stamina" and practice it in our academics.
  11. We look at people's faces to see how they are feeling.
  12. We know the importance of doing our own work so others can do theirs.
  13. We are careful to use kind and respectful words toward one another.
  14. We are now skilled at using encouraging words towards others and ourselves.

Go ahead. Print it out and stick it on your mirror. I'm going to.

Number Four--saying "I'm sorry," is something these 6 year-olds could teach most of us. I love how Loretta and her classmates don't have any finesse or art about it. They just say, in the words of their kindergarten training, "You dumped my bucket." Then they have it out and play with each other again next recess.

Our memories are longer, our interchanges are more nuanced, and certainly I don't have time for people who dump my bucket constantly. But in 2014, one of my goals is to bounce back more quickly--to take myself less seriously, notice the assumptions that keep me from playing well with others, and get out there and play 4-square anyway.

Advent 2013: Kimchi Lunch Bowl

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Another lunch at home. Sunday afternoon, kids made their own Top Ramen (yes, the 50 cent kind from the package) and I made this. More kimchi for me.

Heat up your wok over a high flame. Add some vegetable oil, let it get hot again, then add a few big handfuls of broccoli florets, a minced garlic clove, and 1/4 head of a green cabbage, thinly sliced. Stir-fry for 3 or 4 minutes, then add a couple big spoonfuls of kimchi and fry another minute until everything's hot. Serve with brown rice, Korean chili paste, sesame oil, and maybe a fried egg on top. (Which I did but I didn't show since you'd start to think all I eat is fried eggs. Which is true.) This amount of veggies serves two in case your lovie is home. Or in case you want to make things easier on youself when pack your Monday lunch.

It's the week before Christmas. For all my sometimes zen-ness, even I feel a little twinge about the tasks to complete and the Christmas spirit to maintain all the while. If you're in that place, let's be there together. As Saint Julian would say, "All is well and shall be well and all manner of things shall be well." "Well" just might look differently than we'd like it to.

Advent 2013: This is It

Baby Loretta

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Maybe because it's Christmastime, I'm so nostalgic lately for when my kids were younger. I've been telling them stories and finding old photos, and I'm blown away when I think about having these little people in my life for almost 11 years. Parenting is a relationship, and boy do they ever have a relationship with me! They've seen me at my wits end, they've seen me cry, they've eaten thousands of my meals, been in my body and close to my body.

I wasn't excited about having kids. When I think about the possibility I could have said no this, I almost come undone. I didn't know how much I'd feel hung out to dry--how terrifying it would be to love someone so much. And I didn't know how terrifying it would be not to. Like I've said before, there are many ways to be broken open. These two are my way, and I am alive with love and longing for them.

Advent 2013: Week in Review

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Best lunch: At home with Yancey, roasted delicata and yams with sharp cheddar and fried eggs
Biggest accomplishment:
Getting half my Christmas cards mailed
Favorite kitchen moment:
Teaching Loretta how to crack an egg
Least favorite kitchen moment: Spilling a jar of marinara sauce all over the floor
My dog's favorite moment: Me spilling a jar of marinara sauce all over the floor
Favorite commute: Listening to my Christmas mix at full tilt
Biggest disappointment: Only 2 Christmas cards in my mailbox so far
When I felt most understood: Commiserating with  Emily that I'd only gotten 2 Christmas cards

Advent 2013: Savory Parmesan Shortbread

Parmesan Shortbread

This is for my friend Jordan.

Jordan recently moved back to the West Coast after being in NYC for 4 years, and I keep quizzing her about all the things she misses. She told me about some parmesan shortbread she used to get at a favorite coffee shop, and then I couldn't stop thinking about it.

I don't want to embarrass her, but Jordan is a tastemaker. If she likes something (shoes, pencils, or shortbread), you'd best pay attention. She's got the magic touch just like my mom or sister or other artists have. And another thing--making her happy makes me happy. It's not hard to make her happy. I can make a salad, send a card, or compose a photo that gets a "LOVE!" out of her. I told her recently that I get inspired when I'm around her--inspired to see things differently, to find more beauty in everyday things.

I find it pretty easy to appreciate people and things, but I'd put inspiration in another category. Being inspired by someone or something usually means I'm spurred to some kind of action or resolve that wasn't there before. Something moves. Besides Jordan, here's some other people in my world that have inspired me this year:

  1. Molly who started meditating, somehow, in the middle of parenting four boys and cutting people's hair
  2. My sister who landed an amazing, scary job that's kicking her out of her comfort zone
  3. Emily who's interning as a chaplain at the King County Juvenile Detention Center
  4. My dad who's going through a forced career change at 61 and finding joy and peace anyway
  5. Kristen, who finds time to paint breathtaking canvases in her studio after teaching art to high schoolers all day and caring for her family
  6. Kerri who worked her butt off to help her twin daughters get into a great college and bravely said goodbye to them
  7. Jenn who's living life (very unexpectedly) as a single parent and staying present to all of it

Cheers. Parmesan shortbread for all of you.

Savory Parmesan Shortbread
From Nigella Lawson. I changed the recipe the tiniest bit with the addition of rosemary (guess I'm into that these days--it's my one garden plant) and flake salt. EASY and addictive. You'll want to make these for every dinner party. And they make a wonderful gift, maybe with a bottle of wine and some spiced nuts. This recipe makes one log--I quadrupled it and kept some in the freezer.

1 c. flour
3/4 c. grated parmesan
7 Tb. softened butter
1 egg yolk
2 Tb. chopped fresh rosemary (optional)
flaked salt for the top

Combine flour, parmesan, butter, and egg yolk in a mixer, food processor, or with a wooden spoon until mixture forms a lump. Separate into two balls. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for 30 seconds until smooth. Do the same with the other.

With your hands, roll the doughs into a cylinder, as uniform as possible without stressing it, about 1 1/2" in diameter. Flatten the ends, too. Roll these up in a piece of plastic wrap then twist the ends. Put them in the freezer for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350, take your cylinders out of the freezer, and cut into 1/2" coins, and sprinkle a bit of flake salt on each. Arrange on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake until just barely golden brown, about 20 minutes. Let cool before eating.

Curried Parsnip Soup with Coconut Milk

Roasted Parsnips

If you have root vegetables piling up (I might be in the minority here), you can do this:

Preheat your oven to 425.

Peel and roughly chop enough of them to fill up two regular-sized baking sheets (spaced as I did above so you get some roasty bits and don't end up steaming everyhing.) Here, I did about 10 large parsnips (you could do carrots or a mix of carrots and parsnips), 3 big yams (or 5ish smaller ones), and one large onion. Cut a squash in half (acorn, butternut, sugar pumpkin) and take out the seeds. (You could also do all squash or all yams.)  Rub everything with olive oil and salt. Turn the squash upside down and roast everything together until super soft, about 45 minutes depending on your oven.

In a couple batches, put roasted veggies in your blender and food processor with enough water to make everything run smoothly. Pour puree into a big soup pot Add 1 Tb. curry powder, salt (don't skimp), juice from a large lime, one can of coconut milk, a couple tablespoons of brown sugar, and more water to your liking. (I don't like my pureed soups too thick.) Bring to a simmer and taste, adding more of anything and maybe adding some cayenne if you're a spice lover.

Serve just like it is or with yogurt, chopped cilantro, shredded coconut, or thinly sliced green onions on top.

Advent 2013: Area 25

Kalbi Feast

My father-in-law's birthday party at our house last night. 12 people, 15 pounds of Kalbi ribs, and a GIANT pile of used napkins. I almost typed, "My life isn't always like this," but stopped myself. It kind of is. I have family and friends all around. They have birthdays and we get to celebrate them together. Or it's a plain old weeknight and we get to celebrate that, too. And most the time, I feel THERE, in my skin, and ready to give and receive.

I heard a podcast today about a way to treat depression by stimulating electrodes deep in the brain. The nuerosurgeon talked about his technique, and how people who haven't left the house for months all of the sudden want to go out to the garage and tinker with the car or call a friend. It got me thinking about how I always want to call a friend. I've had dark moments, I have my share of anxiety, and I struggle with a very loud inner critic who says I'm not good enough. But I don't have a problem getting out of bed in the morning or coming up with things to look forward to. For whatever reason, that hasn't been my burden in this life.

I bring this up because, for lots of you, it is. And I've heard that Christmas is a sucky time. Everyone's expectations and nostalgia factors are higher than normal and you don't feel happy. "Area 25" is the space in the brain responsible for sadness, and it's like a prison for you. I don't understand it, but I believe you.

I have zero suggestions or prescriptions, but I guess I just wanted to say I'm sorry and I think about you a lot during Advent and Christmas. And people posting about raucous family meals and Rumi poems might rub you the wrong way. I don't see how this could be a consolation, but I've always believed that those who suffer deeply know more about life, themselves, and what's really important. Things I don't know yet. Somehow, in some way, may you find yourself in the light this season--inexplicably, undeniably out of Area 25 and into some State of Grace. Amen.

Advent 2013: True Stories

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Maybe you've heard the adage, "This story didn't happen, but it's true." For fact-obsessed Westerners, it's hard for us to understand that sometimes.

I love the Christmas story. I grew up with a very literal understanding of it. There were 3 Wise Men, shepherds watching their flocks by night, and Mary was definitely a virgin.

I don't begrudge anyone their fact-finding. But as I've grown older, the story has taken on more meaning for me as I've let go of what "really happened." Particularly the story of Mary. I used to work with street kids--homeless, dirty, abandoned or abused, and many of them addicted. I imagine one of THEM bringing God into the world, and I can tell you none of the babies born to those girls were virgin births. When I think about God's entrance onto the human scene, I'm more transformed by the idea that it wasn't a virgin birth, but an accidental pregnancy. And it wasn't a warm barn with sweet-smelling hay, but a cold and dirty temporary shelter for a family on the margins who needed some help. If that's where God was born, it changes everything. It means you can experience Love even when you don't have money for Christmas gifts and you're dreading seeing your dad. It means light comes out of the darkness and, in fact, needs the darkness. It means transcendence isn't about Christmas crafts and harmony, but about being right where you are and paying attention.

Rumi says, "Out beyond ideas of right and wrong, there's a field. I'll meet you there." Who knows what really happened on that nativity night? But I do know this field is beautiful, it's wide open, and there's space for all of us.