December 2009

“Are you ready?” Several years ago an early morning phone call woke me at a motel in Idaho where I was teaching a writing class. No, “Hello, did I wake you?” or “Sorry, but are you ready?” Just the query: “Are you ready?”

It was a wrong number but it prompted me to write about the things I wasn’t sure I was ready for. One was my precious nephew graduating from high school and moving on to being “out there” in the wild world. His interest was the criminal justice field. I wasn’t sure I was ready for him to be old enough to maybe enlist in the military, maybe going off to war, maybe becoming a police officer or a Federal agent of some kind. But he’d been focused on service and protection of others his entire life. He even had the task of taking the family’s eggs to the women’s shelter each week as a reminder of how relationships can deteriorate but also as a statement to women and children that there are men who would treat them with kindness. He has a caring heart.

While at Hamlin University, he interned with the St. Paul Police department then graduated from Hamlin a year and a half ago. He enrolled immediately in the police academy where he graduated at the top of his class. Things were looking good for a job! Then the economy sank. Even police jobs were frozen. So he took odd jobs working security at area theme parks, for example. He helped at the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis. He worked as a bouncer, worked for his parents in sales, a job he really didn’t like but he needed work. He put his job applications in and kept checking back hoping for an interview.

Well this week he got the calls! Two interviews with two agencies he most wanted. Now, he hasn’t had the interviews yet; no job has been offered. There are few openings and lots of applicants including former police officers who were laid off earlier. But the good news is that he’s ready! He’s been ready. And that’s all we can really ask of ourselves in a trying time: to just be ready, stay focused, keep our feet on firm ground. If the job offers don’t follow I’m certain he’ll keep looking, broaden the agencies he might want to work for but for now, his patience and commitment have brought him to a new place in the job hunt and we are pleased for him. And for the agency that might chose him. He’d be a good man. He’s ready.

That seems fitting with this season of Advent. Being ready, being prepared is what this season is all about. Being ready to accept the possibility of joy, as Mary did. Being ready to put aside our fears as the shepherds did. Being ready to give gifts as the wise men did; being ready to receive gifts as Jesus did. It is a season to consider.

I confess, I’m not ready with the gifts and cards of the season. Tensions on the home front have redirected my thinking. Even good news such as A Flickering Light being named to Library Journal’s Best Books of 2009 hasn’t stayed on my tongue for very long, the recognition being more like salt than sugar. So I decided to re-read a devotional by Ann Spangler called The Tender Words of God. I actually began the year with Jerry and I reading that book through. Now we begin again. Her words direct me to scriptures reminding me of aspects of God’s character that I need to praise God for and to rely on.

Last week it was strength, which I needed. This week, it’s protection which I also need.

“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty” reads Psalm 91. The Hebrew word sel can be translated as shadow while tsel, another Hebrew word, expands that shadow to be a protective shadow. Oh to remind myself daily that I am privileged to be resting in that protective shadow!

Our Northwest news of the death of four police officers has touched me deeply. They were simply preparing for their shift, doing their jobs when this crazed man walked in and shot the four of them. They were there getting ready to protect their community; they were not protected from one man’s outrageous anger and intention.

The grief of their families makes me think again of my nephew choosing law enforcement as a profession. Is being ready to die something police officers are encouraged to think about? I’ll have to ask my nephew. Surely their families were not ready for the news that came to them of their great loss. And where was that protection from the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”

My devotional reminds me that bad things do happen to good people but that the protective shadow God promises each of us is God’s presence in protecting our souls. It doesn’t explain when tragedy strikes but it does impress on me the urgency of having my soul ready for whatever may come and trusting that I can find peace within that protective shadow. Two years of telling my grandmother’s story as a photographer have made me think more about shadow and light and the idea of a protective shadow is a comfort.

Part of my family distress this past month required telling the truth about how I felt. I realized that I’d been protecting other people’s feelings at the expense of my own and I’d begun to feel dishonest to myself, to my soul, to my heart. (That workshop I led last month about people who sabotage themselves really spoke to me…and I was delivering it!)

“Above all else, guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life. Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm. Do not swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil” reads Proverbs 4:23-27.

Sometimes evil finds us when we are getting ready as those fine police officers fatally learned. Our hearts can become sick with anxiety and worry over things we can’t control. What we can control is being aware, taking responsibility for how we feel and moving toward making changes that will guard our hearts and souls. I suspect those officers chose their profession knowing of the risks and we can be grateful they chose to serve anyway.

I’m getting ready this season not for the presents or the mountains of food; not even for the gathering of family and friends or the time at home working on my next book, not having to travel so much. Only three more events await me this December: one in Moro on the 5th at the Sherman County Museum and one in Portland on the 6th at the Historical Society and a gathering of Tualatin area history buffs who paid for lunch with me (and supported the historical society at the same time). After that, I’m home until the end of January! Hurrah!

What I am getting ready for this season is to be grateful: For life; for people willing to give their lives in protection of others; for small gifts like roses and black-eyed Susan’s still blooming in December that fit perfectly in my Bauer pottery; the gentleness of loving friends and family; for words of scripture and the comforting words of writers who share God’s tender care for us despite the turmoil of this world and our own inner turmoil, too.

It’s my hope, and Jerry’s too, that along with the cards and shopping and all the accoutrements that threaten to consume the season that you’ll find time to get ready for the things that truly matter. You know the names of what those are and as writer Madelein L’Engle once noted, “we are named by the choices we make.” Choose to be ready.

Merry Christmas each and every one!

Warmly, Jane