A Lesson in Economics

I was in my room reading. (Because I was eleven, and at age eleven, I was always in my room reading.) 

“Want to come outside and do something with me?” my big brother asked, like the book in my hands wasn’t already an answer to that question.

Glance out the window. It looks hot. “Like what?” 

“I was thinking of maybe building a miniature golf course.”

Intriguing. But also, hot. And also experience tells me grandiose plans are not necessarily going to become a reality. Whereas the unlikely band of misfits in this book are very real and most definitely going to save their kingdom through courage and friendship and a little bit of magic. (It was probably a band of misfits. I don’t really remember, but there was inevitably a band of misfits and some kind of sorcerer.)

“Nah.”

“Okay.”

It was a little surprising that he didn’t try to talk me into it. He usually tried to tempt and tease me to bend to his will. It usually worked. (I should have known the lack of bluster meant a more serious plan was in motion, but I hadn’t yet learned that correlation.)

The misfits did their thing. I was very happy in some other world. But not quite enough to ignore the noises happening in my world. Something was definitely going on in the front yard. I peeked out.

My brother was hard at work. Bricks from the random pile in the back yard were laid out. Toys and sticks were arranged as obstacles. Cups were put out to catch the golf balls. It really was a miniature golf course. The neighbor kids were already watching. There was a buzz in the air. I felt a little bit like I was missing out on something great, but not quite enough to do anything about it. I was needed elsewhere. The misfits were on the verge of a breakthrough.

Another half hour. Now there was laughing and shouting coming from out front. I peeked out again. The neighbor kids were playing the course, putting around with my dad’s old golf clubs while my brother stood on and watched…and collected the money. He was charging them a dollar each to play the course. (He was always brilliant like that.) Now I knew for sure I had missed my window. No way he would let me play for free. No way I was paying a dollar to putt around some bricks. It sure did look like a good time in the front yard, though. There was nothing I hated more than missing out on a good time.

I rejoined my misfits with much less enthusiasm. 

That’s when my brother came back. He couldn’t have picked his moment better if he had planned it. (He may have planned it. More likely he had just gotten bored…because he literally has the ability to become bored by how easy it is to make money.) 

“Want to make some money?” He asked, waving the stack of ones in his hand.

I did, in fact, want to earn money, mostly because you can buy books with money.

“How?” I said as casually as I could.

“I built the golf course like I said, and the kids are all playing. They’re paying a dollar per game. I’m kind of tired from standing out there, though. If you go collect the money and watch over the game, I’ll give you a quarter of each dollar they pay.”

“Only a quarter?” I’m a little sister, which is undeniably synonymous with sucker, but I do have some standards.

“Well, it is my golf course. It was my idea. I put all the work into building it. But I guess I could give you fifty cents.”

Ha. Half the money and an excuse to go join the fun. Who’s the sucker now? (It’s still me, but I’m 11. Give me a break.)

I took the deal. I stood in the heat for an hour or so, until the neighbor kids slowly lost interest or ran out of money or both. I made about three dollars. It wasn’t all that much fun, either. These were my brother’s friends, and I wasn’t a part of their game. I got bit by a lot of mosquitos.

This is what happens when you don’t get in on the ground floor of a new enterprise.  

Also, this: my mom came home with the groceries. “Kids, clean up that mess in the front yard before dinner.”

“We will, Mom,” my brother called, appearing from out of nowhere. “It won’t take us long,” he reassured me. There was no more mention of it being his golf course. Fifty-fifty was now the name of the game.

We carried bricks to the back yard. We stacked cups and returned clubs to the garage. The golf course was just a pile of old junk again. 

“Sweet. Made $15 dollars on that,” my brother said, pocketing the cash. 

I looked down at my three and scratched my mosquito bites and reflected that some of us were born to make money and laugh with the neighbor kids and some of us were born to miss out. I shrugged off the blip of resentment and went back inside. It’s all right. This is how misfits are made and why they end up banding together. 

And it’s a good thing they do, or who would save the world from evil sorcerers?


Thanks for the lesson in economics, big brother, and for helping me know who I am.

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The Glass Castle

“Did you see that the lot next door is for sale?” Gwen asked, passing by with a basket of laundry.

I put my cereal spoon down.  “You’ve got to be kidding.”

“The sign went up today,” she said.

All my righteous indignation rose up. Let’s face it, it didn’t take much to make that happen, but this was a serious cause. “I knew that realtor was lying,” I called to Gwen, who was now pouring detergent into the washing machine. “That’s exactly the standard story they tell. ‘Yes, isn’t the green space wonderful? It will stay that way, too. Owned by an old man, you know, and he refuses to sell or let anyone build on it.’ Like that lie isn’t as worn out as an old shoe.”

“It convinced you,” said Gwen, passing back through with a pile of folded towels. 

She was right. That’s what made me so angry. Like most young hipsters, we had wanted to live in the city, to be a part of urban life and renewal, but I had also worried about raising our theoretical kids away from nature, surrounded by concrete and skyscrapers instead of grass and trees. This place had seemed like the answer to all of that.  The townhouse was old and full of history but it had been renovated to comfortable perfection. It was in an up and coming urban center but right next door was an empty lot full of grass and ringed by beautiful old trees. Of course I wanted to believe the realtor when she said it would never get built up. That didn’t make me any less angry now. 

Worse, we had now lived here long enough that the kids weren’t theoretical anymore. Gwen was expecting our first daughter in just three months. We had spent the whole winter preparing a nursery that looked out onto green branches blowing in the wind. I imagined my daughter now staring out onto an apartment complex or a blocky office building or a Baby Gap.

“I’m going to call the number and find out about it,” I said. 

“You’re only going to get all worked up about nothing,” Gwen answered.

“Well, maybe I’ll write an article about it or something. Get public opinion on our side and save the green space.”

Gwen came to stand in the kitchen doorway and looked at me with one eyebrow raised. I knew that look.

“People love that kind of stuff,” I said defensively.

“I know they do,” she said. “But didn’t you leave journalism because you were tired of having to muster up new causes for people with short attention spans? ‘Pandering to the public’s fickle imagination’ I believe were your exact words.”

“But this is a real cause, a worthy cause, not something manufactured to get people worked up enough to keep reading outdated media. And I always intended to keep writing. This could be my first freelance project.”

I had intended to keep writing. There was a time when I had loved writing. But I had left my job at the local news magazine for a more lucrative and less enfuriating project manager position six months ago, and I had yet to write a single paragraph in all that time.

Gwen’s smile was a little too understanding, but she had always claimed that my idealism was one of the things she loved about me, so she didn’t argue. Plus, I figured, in some part of her heart, she knew I was right. We couldn’t just do nothing.

I called the number on the For Sale sign. A man answered the phone.

“I’m calling to inquire about the empty lot for sale on Orchard Street,” I said.

“Are you interested in buying it?” He asked.

“Well, I’m very interested in it,” I hedged, “but first I just need to know the asking price and the zoning information. That kind of thing.”

“What do you want it for?” He asked.

It suddenly occurred to me that he hadn’t mentioned the name of the realty office when he answered the phone.

“Could I speak to the listing realtor for that property?” I said.

“There’s no realtor,” he answered.

“Who am I speaking with?” I asked.

“Who am I speaking with?” He retorted.

“I’m James Harroway,” I started again. “I actually live next door to the property in question, and I’m interested in finding out more about it.”

There was a long pause. “You live next door?” He asked.

Now I was starting to feel nervous. Wasn’t your address the kind of information you weren’t supposed to give out to strangers over the phone?

“Are you the one selling the property?” I asked.

“Yes,” he answered. “Maybe. I own it. And I also live next door.”

For a second I had that creepy the-call-is-coming-from-inside-the-house feeling. Then I realized he must mean next door on the other side. I realized it had been a minute since anyone spoke. “Oh, um, great! So…we’re neighbors. And, um, now you’re selling the lot?”

“Let’s meet and do this face to face,” he said. “Outside in five minutes.”

“Oh,” I said, taken aback. I hadn’t really wanted to face anyone just yet. “Well, um, the thing is…”

“Do you live next door or not?” He asked.

“Um, yes…”

“Are you home right now or not?”

I considered lying, but it just wasn’t in me. “Yes, but…”

“If you want to know about the lot, meet me outside in five minutes,” he said and hung up before I could answer.

I was still feeling a little dizzy when Gwen walked in and grabbed a banana from the bowl on the table.

“What’s wrong with you?” She asked.

“I guess that number was for the owner,” I said. 

“Okay. How much is he asking? I bet it’s half a million, isn’t it?”

“I don’t know. He wants to meet me. He’s our neighbor.”

Gwen laughed. “Really? Are you going to do it?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “It’s going to be pretty awkward when I can’t actually buy the property. One look at me an he’s going to know I don’t have half a million dollars to invest.”

Gwen laughed again. “You should go! I mean, you’ll get to meet a neighbor if nothing else.”

“Want to come?” I asked, standing up.

“Right now?” She said.

“He said in five minutes.”

Gwen laughed again. “Oh no,” she said. “This is all you. But if he turns out to be the old man that the realtor described and not some kind of axe murderer, then you can invite him over for dinner.”

With that kind of overwhelming support behind me, I went down to the front stoop. An old man with brown courderoy pants and a professor-style jacket, complete with elbow patches, was standing on the sidewalk looking up at me as I came out the door.

“So you weren’t lying,” he said.

“I try not to do that,” I answered.

He just nodded. “Good,” he said and held out his hand as if he weren’t a stranger passing judgment on my whole character.

“I’m Jeremiah Cooper. Lived here on Orchard Street for seventy-four years, which means I moved in when I was six, in case you’re wondering.”

I took his hand. “James Harroway.  I’ve lived here for six months, which means I moved in when I was twenty-seven,” I answered.

Jeremiah Cooper smiled and didn’t let go of my hand. “That’s fine,” he said. “It’s good to be young while you can. Now tell me what your interest is in my property.”

It was really hard to be vague while gripping someone’s hand. I tried to pull my hand back, but he wasn’t having it. For an eighty-year old man, he had quite the grip. I gave up and told the whole truth. “The green space next door is why we bought this house. I was upset to see you were selling it. I hope it won’t get built up. I thought I’d ask the price and maybe if it wasn’t too much…”

I couldn’t quite finish the sentence. We’d used up all our savings on the down payment for the townhouse, so unless he was offering the lot for $19.99, I wasn’t a potential buyer.

“Let’s not talk money. Let’s talk dinner. Do you like pierogies?”

My face must have looked pretty comical because he burst out laughing, a long rumbling chuckle that ended in a little coughing fit.

“Never mind,” he said when he had finished. “You’ll like pierogies. Everyone likes pierogies. Come to dinner tomorrow.”

“Um, well…thank you.” I was struggling to find my bearing. “My wife actually…she said I should invite you to dinner at our house if you’d like.”

“Did she? How kind. I accept. But another time we’re doing the pierogies. You’ll love them. Should I come tomorrow?”

“Um…yeah…sure. That would be great.”

He held out his hand again, and after I’d taken it, gave me one firm hand shake and turned toward his own house. When he went up his front steps, I was still standing where he’d left me. It took another ten minutes before I realized I must look ridiculous and went back inside.

“How was it?” Gwen was waiting to pounce on me when I walked into the door. “I peeked a little. Definitely old. Not sure about the axe murderer, though. You looked a little scared.”

“You could have come outside,” I said. 

“Not with the axe murderer thing still in question! Think of our child!”

“He’s not an axe murderer. He’s coming to dinner tomorrow.”

“Oh.” 

Sending his pregnant wife into a 24-hour flurry of dinner preparations can make a man feel a little guilty. It also makes a man wield a vacuum and learn about something called a Swiffer, so I wasn’t in the most positive frame of mind when Jeremiah Cooper rang our bell at 6:30 the next night.

Gwen was charmed from the first minute, though. He brought her a bonsai. Apparently there is something about an eighty-year-old man holding a tiny tree that really speaks to a pregnant woman.

Not that I found it possible to be grumpy for long. Jeremiah was a fascinating dinner guest. He had lived in the neighborhood through economic downturns and the corresponding upturns, through presidential elections and presidential assassinations, through men landing on the moon and shuttles exploding in the atmosphere, through several wars overseas and through the painful changes each had brought back home. I could have listened to his stories all night.

When he finished dinner, though, he began to question us, not about things like jobs and where we grew up but odd questions about what games we had played as children and why we liked the music we did and what our favorite fairy-tales were. After about an hour of these questions, he finally pushed back from the table and smiled.

“I have one more story for you,” he said. “I told you I was six when we moved into 4430, but what I did not say is that I was very sick. For several years I did very little and seldom got as far from bed as the window that looked down onto the empty lot next door. It was a rare condition, but that is not important to the story.” He waved away our questions. “What is important is that on the occasions that I made it to my window, I would sit and look down, and each time I saw lights flickering through the trees. It didn’t look like firelight, more like fireflies dancing, but it was during the day. I was never out of bed after dark. The first time, I dismissed the lights as nothing, but after the second and third times, I began to be obsessed with them. I would lie in bed and imagine what could be causing the light: pirates with their lanterns, traveling magicians practicing their tricks, fairies hidden away in the trees. These imaginings kept me company on many long and painful days. Finally, one day when I was eight years old, I felt a little stronger, and my mother decided it was safe to leave me for half an hour to go to the store. As soon as she was gone, I dragged my weak body down the stairs and outside. I was exhausted by the time I got to the front steps, but excitement kept me going and I limped around into the lot. I could see the lights under the trees at the back, so I slowly made my way along the edge to where they twinkled. When I arrived, I was terribly disappointed. No pirates. No magicians. No fairies. Just a girl.

“She was pretty, but I wasn’t of an age to care about that. If I hadn’t used all my energy getting to the spot, I would have turned around and gone straight home. As it was, I half-collapsed onto the grass and tried not to cry. The girl saw me and ran over, very concerned about my health. I’m afraid I was very rude when I told her I was fine and she shouldn’t bother.

“‘I’ve seen your face in the window!’ She said. ‘Have you been sick for long?’

“I hated questions about my health, so I didn’t answer. 

“‘I thought maybe you were trapped in that room, just as I am,’ she said. ‘But I suppose not if you’ve come here.’

“‘You’ve come here, too,’ I said sullenly.

“‘I have’t come here. I’m always here. I can’t leave.’

“Now she had my interest, but I wasn’t ready to show it yet. ‘Of course you can leave. What’s to stop you?’ I sneered.

“‘The magician,’ she answered. ‘My father is a king in a far away land, but he wouldn’t give up his throne to the magician. He knew the magician would mistreat his people. So the magician stole me away and brought me here and trapped me in the glass castle, and now I can never leave.’

“I pretended to laugh at this invention but inside I was enchanted by her story. Trying not to sound too interested, I asked her more questions. Her name was Daisy. She had been living in the glass castle for three years, she said, and I was the first person she had talked to besides the magician who only visited once a month. The castle was magical, of course, and she knew no one could see it but her, but she had practiced some magic of her own, lighting special candles to illuminate her home. Those were the lights I had seen, and when she learned that I could see them she was delighted. The happier she got with our conversation, the more I felt the need to be distant, and finally I knew I must begin the slow walk home or my mother would discover that I had been out.

“‘I can help you, you know,’ said the girl as I stood to leave.

“I stopped.

“‘He leaves me magic potions to make food and medicines and anything I might need while he’s gone. I could make you one. It would cure your sickness.’

“I shrugged as if I didn’t care, but really my heart was pounding. To get better. To be able to leave the house. To go to school and play baseball like the other boys. 

“‘Wait here,” she said and ran out from under the trees into the bright sunlight in the middle of the grassy lot. I was still watching her when she disappeared. She had gone into her glass castle, you see, and everything about that castle was invisible. I waited so long I began to think she wasn’t going to return. I began to feel angry that she had gotten my hopes up for nothing. Then in a blink, she reappeared, running toward me with a little flask in her hands.

“‘Drink it all,’ she said, stern as a doctor. I nodded, and I’m ashamed to say that I left without saying good-bye. I was worried about my mother returning and consumed with doubt and hope about the flask in my hands. 

“I did manage to make it back to the house unnoticed. I sat on my bed for a long time staring at that flask. Then I drank it all.”

“Did it work?” Gwen asked breathlessly.

“It did. I woke up the next morning in perfect health. My parents thought it was a miracle. They took me to doctors. All trace of my condition was gone. They enrolled me in school. My mother cried. I got a baseball bat for my birthday. And after that, I went to visit Daisy next door every day. I did my homework under her trees. I told her all my baseball stories. Before long she was my best friend. I went from being the loneliest boy on the street to the happiest one in the city.”

He paused for long that I thought the story was ended. 

“So that’s why you’ve kept the lot all this time,” I said. “In her memory?”

Jeremiah snorted. “I’ve kept it because she still lives there!”

I traded a look with Gwen. It hadn’t occurred to me before that moment that senility might already be setting in. He seemed so lucid.

“We grew up. Inevitably, I fell in love with her. She loved me, too. But she wasn’t free from the magician. We made a plot. I would hide in the trees. He didn’t know about me. When he came for his monthly visit, I would spring out and capture him. We would force him to free her. But he never came. From one month to the next, he just disappeared. And Daisy was still trapped. She couldn’t leave and I couldn’t see her home. We could only be together under the trees. She refused to marry me. She said it wasn’t fair. I refused to stop coming to visit. We were both very stubborn. I found out that the man who had owned the lot with the glass castle had died. I bought the land. I’ve owned it ever since. After a while, it became clear that there was more to the enchantment that we had understood. I got older. Daisy did not. She has stayed young all these years. She was right not to marry me, I suppose, but I was also right not to leave her.”

He paused again for a long time.

“But now I must. It’s the cancer, and she has no more healing potions left. The doctors say I have only a few months, and then she will be left all alone.”

He sat forward, all trace of emotion suddenly gone. “So now for business. I’m not interested in money. I’ve already turned down exhorbiatant offers. I’m interested in promises, and only those who are prepared to make them will get to own that land. Are you prepared to make promises and sign them into contracts?”

Gwen had tears running down her face, so I mustered a response. “What kind of promises?”

“Three promises in specific,” Jeremiah said. “1. That you will never sell the land for any amount of money or sign it over to anyone who doesn’t make the same three promises. 2. That you will never attempt to build anything on the land or change anything that might harm the princess. 3. That you will never move away and leave her alone.”

“You want us to take care of a princess living in a glass castle?” I said.

“Daisy can take care of herself,” Jeremiah snapped. “I want you to protect her.”

“Can we meet her?” Gwen asked in a soft voice.

I threw a concerned look at my emotional wife, but Jeremiah was already standing up. 

“That, my dear, is exactly the right question.”

Gwen took the old man’s arm and followed him outside. I trailed behind, still feeling like the rug had been pulled out from under me. 

Jeremiah led us along the tree line to the back of the lot where he stopped at a ring of stones under a willow tree. 

“Daisy, dear, I’ve brought the young neighbors to meet you,” he said.

Of course, there was no one there. The light flickered through the tree branches in a way that certainly did lend a magical air to the place, but my concern for the old man holding my wife’s arm was growing by the minute.

“Yes, I thought that might happen,” he said. “She says she’s sorry that you can’t see her. We had hoped… But we knew this was more likely.”

“I’m sorry,” Gwen said gently, and I knew she was sorry for the lonely state of the old man, even though he understood something different. 

“Not your fault, dear. Likely you are too old to see past the enchantment. I got in very young, so it has always been different for me. Daisy thinks that music may help to break through, however. Would you like to hear her sing?”

Gwen cast me a helpless glance, and I wasn’t sure what was best to do. Humor him for now, I supposed. “We’d be happy to listen,” I said. 

Jeremiah fell silent and got a faraway look in his eyes. He smiled dreamily.

Of course, I heard nothing. 

I was about to suggest that we walk our neighbor home, and perhaps ask who we could call to help him, when suddenly Gwen gasped.

“I hear a song!” She said. “It’s very faint, just barely more than the breeze, but I hear it!”

I’m sure my mouth was hanging open. Was dementia catching?

Gwen grabbed my arm. “Oh James! I wish you could hear it! It’s beautiful.”

I barely remember what excuses I made or how we took leave of our neighbor or how I got my wife back home, but by the time we closed the door behind us, she was the one giving me concerned looks. 

“Are you feeling all right?” I asked.

Gwen smiled. “You don’t need to treat me like I’ve lost my mind. I know it sounds crazy. But I also know you, James. I know you loved that story. I know you love that green space, and I know you thought that tree was as magical as I did. I know you liked that old man, too. I’m not sure what I heard, or why I heard it and you didn’t. But I think we should sign that contract. We want to keep that space jsut as it is and we want to live right here forever and raise our kids in this house. Does it matter if this is real or all in his heard? It’s a lovely story, and our daughter will get to live with it forever. How could that be bad?”

She was right, and I knew it. I wasn’t ready to let go of my wisdom and admit it, but in my heart, I knew there was no doubt. I argued for a while that committing to live here forever was a big decision and on and on, but it was soulless debate. In less than two hours, we had agreed to tell Jeremiah that we’d do it.

So we did. We signed a contract that we would live in this house forever.  Jeremiah signed the deed to the empty lot over into our name the next day and we agreed to never sell it or change it. We saw him every day for the next six weeks. We ate pierogies at his kitchen table. Gwen held his hand as the pain got worse, and we both sat by his side the night that he died. The very next day our daughter Viola was born. When we brought her home from the hospital, we pointed out the lovely trees she could see from her window. 

Later that evening when Gwen was resting, I took Viola over to the green lot and held her in my arms and whispered to her the story of the princess who lived, forever young, in a glass castle she could never leave. Somehow nothing feels foolish when you are holding a sleeping baby. 

As I turned to go home, I though I heard, very faintly, the sound of someone singing. 


 

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Animalian Acquirers, Inc.

Step up! Step up! Please gather ’round!
Whatever you’ve lost can still be found!
You’ve tried to look, you’ve searched and scoured
But you’ve not yet been helped by agents like ours.

Have a lost appetite? That’s easy as pie!
Our truffle-hunting pigs barely have to try.
Our Grizzlies find berries, so juicy and sweet,
And our vultures can show you the finest of meats.


But please don’t think food is all we can do
We know you’ve lost much more than something to chew
For those missing keys, our ‘coons find shiny things!
And our robins locate matching socks while they sing!


If you can’t find your car in that huge parking lot
We’ve got hounds to assist you in finding your spot.
And when it turns out you have lost your way home
Our pigeons will guide you; you won’t be alone.


But wait! Don’t go yet! There’s so very much more!
For your lost hope, we have kittens and bunnies galore!
If your sense of style’s missing, we have chimpanzee groomers!
And our rare garenuks find lost senses of humor.


Whatever you’re missing, our agents stand by.
Don’t mourn what is lost ’til you give us a try.
No matter how difficult, we’re bound to scout it.
And if we can’t, you’re probably better without it.

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What I’ve Got

So hey! Yeah. It’s been a while. I was humming along, focusing hard on Book 5 of The Book of Sight and diving into our usual busy spring schedule and then BOOM, my son got what we thought was the stomach flu but turned out to be appendicitis. Before we even knew what had happened, they were telling us his appendix had ruptured and we were moving into the hospital for a 9-day stay, followed by several weeks of at home recouperation. So yeah, it’s been a while.

The good news is that my boy is up and around and back to school! He’s 10 pounds skinnier and a little weak still, but he’s going to be just fine. Turns out he’s a pretty tough kid. I could not be more grateful. And here I am, back to work again, trying to pick up the threads of the book and of the rest of my unfinished thoughts. I’m looking through my half-written posts. There’s a great one about the books I’ve been reading this year. Can’t wait to share it with you because there are some really fun books on that list. There’s a funny little poem that I think will tickle your fancy if I can ever get it wrapped up. But for today, I don’t have organized or light-hearted. I have this, which I wrote on accident when I was trying to write something for the book. 

Did you know you can accidentally write something? Ten years ago, I would not have thought that was possible. But it is. It makes me cringe a little, but I’ve decided to share my accident with you because I think it’s time we made contact again, and after all the ups and downs of the last several weeks, this is what I’ve got.  So here you go, my attempt to get back to work. The accidental story.


Once a child was given a choice, to travel the world with her father as he worked or to stay in a cozy home under her grandmother’s care. The child knew that either choice offered love but that neither choice offered perfection. She felt safe and content in her grandmother’s house, surrounded by the friends she had always known but never doing anything outside of her routine. A life with her father would be full of adventure and she would see the world from one end to the other, but he would be her only constant companion and often she would be alone. In the end it was neither security nor adventure that enticed her into making her choice. It was only that when the moment came, she could not bear to be parted from the man that was king in her heart.

Once a girl was given a choice, to marry a wealthy young businessman who could offer her the luxuries of the world or to marry a talented young artist who could offer her the beauty of his imagination. The girl knew that either choice offered her a bright future and that neither choice offered perfection. The businessman was kind and attentive and intelligent though he had little care for her frequent flights of fancy. The artist was brilliant and passionate and romantic though he was certainly quite poor and often distracted by his work. In the end, it was neither beauty nor wealth that swayed the girl’s mind. It was only that when the moment came, she could not bear to be parted from the genius who had stolen her heart.

Once a young mother was give a choice, to accept a position at a famous art institute alongside her husband or to turn the job down to have days at home with her new child. The mother knew that either choice offered a kind of success and that neither choice offered perfection. The teaching position would inspire her and bring attention to her name but would also mean long hours of work away from those she loved. Remaining at home would be a satisfying and contented life but one that was often dull and would neglect some of her own gifts. In the end, it was neither inspiration nor duty that swayed the mother’s mind. It was only that when the moment came, she could not bear to be parted from the little man who had filled up her heart.

Once a woman was given a choice, to fight against the disease raging through her body or to numb herself to the pain of it as it took control. The woman knew that either choice offered difficulty and heartache and also that neither came with guarantees. If she chose to fight, her mind would be clear but she would suffer much pain and still might lose in the end. If she chose to submit, she could be at peace but the separation from the world would come all the quicker. In the end, it was neither the hope of victory nor the fear of pain that made up her mind. It was only that when the moment came, she could not bear to parted from the men who held her hands and her heart.

Once a woman was given a choice. To be wrenched from her heart in bitterness and despair or to say goodbye to her heart with longing but no regret. The woman knew that either choice would be the most painful loss she could imagine and that neither could be taken back once made. If she held on tight until her life was torn away, she might be strong in the end and yet the damage left behind might be permanent. If she let go gently, the hole in her chest might go unrecognized, but the heart she handed over would be whole. In the end, it wasn’t her anger or her fear that made her decision. It was only that when the moment came, she realized she had parted with her heart long ago, and there was really no choice at all.


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Princess Ruffle 

Welcome to our bedtime story series! Each time I’ll start with a couple of words that come from kids, things they’d like to hear a story about. Then I’ll briefly outline for you what my quick mental process was in figuring out how to make a story from the elements. Then I’ll give you the finished story (short and silly most of the time, just right for bedtime). I hope you get inspired to riff off of the elements and make a story of your own!

Story elements: Princess, puppy

Process: What’s a strange thing a puppy could do? Dance
What’s a possible result of the dancing? People making fun of it
What’s a way to overcome the problem? Dancing proving useful in some way

Once upon a time there was a princess who also happened to be a puppy. Her father, King Bowser, ruled over all of Canine City, and her mother, a Maltese known only as “Queenie,” was the most beautiful dog in the land.  The princess’s name was Ruffle. (I know, Ruffle is more of a thing you might have on your skirt than a name for a princess, but her father came from a long line of Barksters and Ruffalos and Arooperts, and his favorite uncle had been named Ruffing, so really, Ruffle was lucky to at least be named after something girly. It could have been much worse.)

In any case, Ruffle didn’t care much about her name. She was only interested in dancing. She loved all kinds of dancing, and she would have done it twelve hours a day if she weren’t required to do princessy things from time to time (like telling important people how delighted she was to meet them and ordering elaborate dresses so the Royal seamstresses would have something to do). As it was, she managed to spend most of her time on the dance floor. Her father had ordered the servants to make sure she always had a dance partner, which the servants found quite annoying. (Dogs, as you know, do not have hands and so cannot hold hands while dancing. This means that in dog dancing “partners” are really just two dogs dancing quite near to each other and occasionally bumping noses or tails. Princess Ruffle could have danced quite as well on her own, and the servants could have gotten on with their work, but King Bowser was very strict about certain rules, and for some reason, this was one of them.)

The servant who most often got stuck dancing with Princess Ruffle was the Paper Hound. Paper hound was his job and not his name of course, though he was called Paper Hound more than anything else. The Paper Hound was the pup in charge of fetching the newspapers every morning, so the king could read all about what was happening in the world, and for delivering the important letters the king sent out to the post office each afternoon. The rest of the time, the Paper Hound hung around and did odd jobs, which was how he so often ended up dancing with Princess Ruffle. His real name was Rawlph. 

Rawlph always complained about having to dance with Princess Ruffle, but the truth was that he actually liked it. True, Princess Ruffle was very bossy, and she was very particular that he do all the right dance moves, but once he learned them, it was really fun to dodge and twirl and romp around on the dance floor. 

The worst part of it was that the other boy puppies used to make fun of Rawlph for having to dance with Princess Ruffle. They said he looked stupid with all that twirling and stomping. Rawlph tried to ignore this, but it wasn’t easy. When someone says you look stupid that is a very hard thing to overlook.

One day, though, everything changed.  And, of course, it was the ants who changed it.

The queen of the ants, Queen Antella, was the arch enemy of King Bowser, and she had always wanted to take over his kingdom. Ants, of course, are much smaller than dogs, but they are very strong for their size, and there are so many of them. On the day of the ant invasion, Queen Antella’s army numbered in the thousands.

When the ants swarmed the castle, the dogs fought valiently, but they were at a disadvantage. Dogs generally fight things the same size as they are, or perhaps bigger even. This means that they are used to standing their ground and snapping with their fierce teeth. Unfortunately, when you are fighting ants, standing still is the worst thing you can do, and teeth are much too large to hurt ants. King Bowser’s soldiers found themselves snapping at the air while ants swarmed up their legs, injuring them with a hundred tiny ant bites. 

Things were looking bad for the dogs until Princess Ruffle saw the solution. You probably see it, too, don’t you?

Dancing!

“The fox trot!” Princess Ruffle shouted at Rawlph as the ants rushed down the hallway. 

Rawlph knew exactly what she meant. 

Princess Ruffle and Rawlph began their usual twirling and stomping. The ants tried to climb onto them, but their twirling threw the ants off. The ants tried to get away, but each stomp of a puppy’s paw, crushed a dozens of them.

Soon the other dogs were trying to follow Princess Ruffle’s and Rawlph’s example. All the dogs were twirling and stamping with all their might. It was the biggest dance party the kingdom had ever seen.

And it worked. Soon so many ants had been killed that Queen Antella called the retreat. The ants left the castle and the kingdom, and they never came back. 

The dogs all collapsed, exhausted but happy from their dancing and their victory.

And you had better believe that no puppies ever made fun of Rawlph ever again.

In fact, Princess Ruffle had no trouble coming up with dance partners after that. Everyone wanted to learn how to dance, and they all begged her to show them.

She did, of course, because princesses must always help those in their kingdom who need help. But Rawlph was still her favorite partner.

THE END

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There’s a map on my wall
Of the places I’ve been
Of more places I still have to go
And its colors show much
Of the things I have learned
Of more things that I still need to know

  
There’s a shelf full of books
That hold stories I’ve loved
And some stories that fractured my heart
All their neatly squared spines
Reveal well-ordered thoughts
Conceal feelings that ripped me apart

  
There’s a child in her bed
Who is so much of me
Just as a much something I can’t explain
And I watch as she dreams
This small, vulnerable self
Filled with life that’s too big to contain

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I need to write a story

Once upon a time there was a princess in a castle
(Or would a tiny hut be snug and cleaning be less hassle?
(But can a princess live in just a tiny, tidy hut?
(Is tiny hut redundant? Can huts be huge or what?)))

AHEM

Once a princess lived in a small hut, all clean and cute
(Why is it that tiny things are always cute to boot?
(And why when we mean “also” do we mention someone’s shoes?
(Oh! The princess could solve crimes with magic boots that give her clues!)))

AHEM

A princess got a hut to start her own detective service
(Though his child owning a business would likely make a king quite nervous
(Or are there progressive monarchs? It might not be oxymoronic.
(Jumbo shrimp! An open secret! (ooh…that would be ironic))))

AHEM

So king moves detective daughter to a hut (gossip prevention)
But because she’s out of place, her magic boots draw much attention
(Is there a moral to this story or are we just poking fun?
(Speaking of fun, I could grab lunch with friends, sit in the sun…))

AHEM

So there’s a princess, worried father, magic boots, and crimes to solve
Boots give clues, cases are cracked, a hut is purchased, fame evolves
So…the king learns that the things we fear sometimes can be our friend
And you shouldn’t be ashamed of your weird kids. Yeah,that. The End.

  

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The Final 2015 Book List

  
If I share it with you on January 4 of 2016, it’s not THAT late. Plus, I squeezed one in there on that last day of the year, so here we go!  You can see the first two installments of 2015’s books here and here.

Remember! These are not all recommendations. In fact, it was a pretty blah year of books for me in general. But I’m going to the effort of finding links for the books I think you ought to check out. The others get a passing mention…

  • Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple – Well-written and pretty interesting read. Contemporary sort of YA, with a nice look at a complicated mother/daughter relationship and ultimately at being exceptional in an ordinary world. Didn’t change my world, but I enjoyed reading it.
  • Cinder by Marissa Meyer – Not bad. YA distopian Cinderella story. Pretty interesting world, pretty solid characters. But somehow I just never did get into it. Maybe someday I’ll read the rest of the series? But it wasn’t compelling enough to hunt them down.
  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – This is as good as everyone says it is. It’s just not my thing. Historical fiction of the serious, war-torn Europe variety. I forced myself to finish it out of respect for the wonderful characters and the tapestry he wove with them. It had some lovely moments, but still somehow didn’t lodge in my heart. Probably a me problem.
  • Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee – This is better than you’ve been told. You have to think of it as a totally different novel than Mockingbird and just enjoy it for what it is. It’s not the best book ever written (That’s probably Mockingbird.) but it’s got its own genius. I absolutely LOVED the first half, one of the best coming home accounts I’ve ever read. The second half gets lost in a lot of talk about people’s thoughts, but it sheds some interesting light on how people actually thought. I was glad I had the chance to read it.
  • 24 Girls in 7 Days by Alex Bradley – Ridiculous contemporary YA about your typical geek boy trying to figure out life and also score a date. The main character was like able enough that I read the whole book. The plot was barely worthy of the word, but I don’t think it was meant to be. There’s really nothing else to say about this book.
  • Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell by Susanna Clark – This book is genius. Seriously, it’s a massive commitment, but you should make it. A book about the 18th Century, written in the 21st Century, but in a style that makes you feel like you’re reading Dickens. Almost. Because it’s so much better. Real magicians. Real magic. Real history. Except not, obviously, because magic. Its tone is delightfully playful, and Jonathan Strange is the most wonderful character I’ve met in years. After you’ve read it, watch the miniseries. It’s a lovingly accurate rendition.
  • The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily by Dino Buzzati (readers’ guide by Lemony Snicket) – This is apparently an actual old book originally written in Italian. It is about exactly what the title says it is about, and therefore is the most wonderfully weird little book you can imagine. It only takes about an hour to read, and it’s worth it for the poems and the illustrations alone. The whole thing is absurd and funny, and if you can find it, you should spend an hour on it. You won’t be sorry.
  • The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde – Super fun and clean YA about an alternate version of magical England and a girl who is NOT magical, but rather a manger of magicians. I listened to the audio book, which I think was the best way to ingest this. I’m afraid some of the jokes wouldn’t have been funny if they hadn’t been read in the proper way. As it was, it was hilarious and fun, and you should check it out for your kids. There are sequels I haven’t read. Mostly because I’m waiting to find the audiobooks. 
  • The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen – I wanted to like this book. I sort of did. Strong female lead. Interesting world with some mysterious connection to the real world. I wanted to find out more about that. So I finished the book and started on the sequel. But then it just kept getting darker and weirder, and I just didn’t want to read it anymore. So. Sadly, not a recommend.
  • Ross Poldark by Winston Graham – My dip into historical fiction of the slightly more romantic variety. Still more history than romance, thankfully. I liked it. The main characters were contrary and the author manages to keep out a lot of the modern day sensibility that usually makes these things boring or irritating. It has a full complement of interesting characters, and is about a point in history I knew nothing about, so that was a bonus. I plan to look into more by the author.
  • Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon – Contemporary YA about a girl raised in a bubble due to her medical condition. All the expected yearning for a real life, and then the new neighbor boy next door.  Nothing world-changing, but not bad as the genre goes. The end was a cheat, though. I don’t know how I wanted it to end, but what the author did robbed the rest of the book. So, this one goes on the No pile.
  • Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge – an alternate rebelling of Beauty and the Beast. Sort of interesting main character and sort of interesting world. Ultimately not all that, though, and just enough sexy stuff that I wouldn’t give it to my daughter. Which was disappointing. I’m always looking for good fairytale rebelling a for my kids. This one didn’t make the cut.
  • Dreamer’s Pool by Juliet Marillier – I’m a big fan of Marillier, have read most of her stuff. This one is strictly mystery solving in her usual old Celtic world. I really liked it. It was different and interesting, and though I’m not a huge fan of mystery, the development of the (strictly platonic) relationship between the two main characters was enough to keep me hooked.
  • The Court of Fives by Kate Elliot – YA fantasy. Pretty good. I’ll probably eventually read the sequels because I like the genre and it was decently well written. Otherwise, though, not much to say about it. 
  • The Empress Game by Rhonda Mason – Sci-fi, strong female lead, spaceships, other planets, alien politics, and a tournament in which women fight women. So. Yeah. It was alright. I read most of it on the NY subway, so it now has a weird place in my heart, but as a book, it’s not much.
  • Defy and Ignite by Sara B Larson – More YA fantasy, this time about a girl who has pretended to be a boy and is one of the Prince’s guards. You get the idea. I read both books, but honestly, though they’re readable, they were a bit boring. I haven’t picked up the third book yet.
  • Lost Stars by Claudia Gray – This is a YA novel set in the Star Wars universe. I read it for obvious reasons. It was a little overly simplistic, but I was really excited for the new movie, so it was fun to read. It did have a little sex in it, though it wasn’t the main focus, so I didn’t pass it on to my kids.
  • My True Love Gave to Me edited by Stephanie Perkins – A collection of short stories by a lot of romance authors, all little love stories set around the holidays. It’s not my usual thing, but after such a long string of mediocre YA fantasy/scifi stuff, it was a really nice read. Just what I needed in the rush of the last few weeks.
  • Bird Box by Josh Malerman – This is straight up end-of-the-world horror, but it’s not as graphic as most, and it is eery and thoughtful and really cool. It’s short. I read it in only a couple of days, and I really enjoyed it. It had creepy elements but wasn’t that scary to me because it felt more like a study in what-if than an actually plausible scenario. Not a bad way to end the year.
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After Christmas

We did it! We did Christmas. For better or for worse, it’s done, and now we can move on. Are you ready?

Just now, I’m giving myself permission to think about the new year. Not The New Year. Just the new year. I have some fun things for you. My completed book list from 2015. This last six months of reading was pretty blah, but I think I may have found THE book of the year just yesterday. I’ll let you know. I found the best storytelling game for kids. And I have a weird host of weird ideas for new stories and poems. We’re going to make January silly and fun, no matter how gross it is outside.

In the meantime, I’ll share with you what I was working on last week (besides last-minute shopping and wrapping and cookie consuming).  

Nate was asked to speak at our church on Sunday, and since we like nothing better than a chance to work together, he asked me to do some storytelling as a part of his message. It was so much fun. I think sometimes we forget that the stories in the Bible are stories. But when we remember, they are even more powerful. These particular stories are all about what happened AFTER Christmas. First, what I wrote when I was figuring the stories out, then the podcast of the actual storytelling, which wasn’t a reading, so it takes its own course. 

—————

She had the baby.

From the moment the angel came to see her, she had thought of nothing but that day. The Birth. And now it had happened.

It was a wild night. Breathing through contractions in the barn. Trying to focus on the smell of the animals, on the feel of Joseph’s hand, on the sounds of a city packed full of people. Trying to focus on anything but the pain.

And then the baby came. Her son. Her little boy.

 And he was perfect. And she was filled with joy as she wrapped him tightly and laid him in the only available bassinet, the animals’ feeding trough.

She watched him lying there asleep, and that’s when it hit her. This was only the beginning. This day she had planned for and prepared for and wished for and feared. This was only the first day. Now she had to raise a son. THE son.

How on earth…?

There was barely time to feel overwhelmed before the shepherds showed up with their story of angels and bright lights and words of hope. They were so excited. Their excitement was contagious, and her fears receded as she listened to them talk and watched the awe on their faces as they looked down at her child. How could her heart be heavy when God had sent hosts of angels to greet their son? When he wanted the whole world to know that this night was good news of great joy for all people?

So she tried to hold on to that moment. To tuck it away in her heart and remember exactly how their faces shone, exactly how Joseph smiled, exactly how certain and secure she felt.

Because after a while they left, went out into the city to tell everyone what had happened, and then Mary and Joseph were just two people in a barn with a baby, trying to catch a few precious hours of sleep in between feedings. And in the quiet darkness of a 3 am feeding, the fears crept back in. The feeling of inadequacy. And a vague dread she couldn’t even put a name to.

The days and weeks passed. She got used to the uneven rhythm of feeding a baby and changing him and cuddling him to sleep. Joseph finally found them a house to stay in, and they moved out of the barn. He picked up odd jobs and they made ends meet.

 The shepherds came back to visit from time to time. She was always glad to see them. They reminded her of her happiest moment, her most peaceful time. The heaviness in her heart didn’t go away, though. It was always with her, and sometimes the shepherds and their blissful excitement grated on her nerves a little. They seemed to think that now that the Messiah was here everything was going to be miraculously transformed.

But Mary had to change the baby’s diapers, and every time she did, she couldn’t help thinking that it was a long way from here to a new world of freedom for her people.

Finally the time came when the law said they needed to go to the temple to present their first born son to God, a reminder that all firstborns were his. They would do the offering for her purification, too. She was finally healed up, on her feet, and back to normal, or at least as close to it as she would ever be. So they went.

 Jesus was nearly six weeks old.

Traveling with a baby wasn’t easy, but the journey felt significant, and after so many days of endless repetitive tasks, it was good to feel that they were doing something important.

Walking into the temple of God with the Son of God in her arms made Mary tremble all over. Joseph was a steady presence by her side, but she could sense his emotion as well.

No one else seemed to notice anything, though. They were just one more young couple with a new baby to be processed. Another task in a busy day for the priests and temple workers.

Then, as they crossed the temple courts, an old man came over to them. He wasn’t wearing the robes of a priest, but he had wisdom and righteousness written all over his face. The moment he looked into Mary’s eyes, she knew that he knew.

His face was full of joy.

With trembling hands, he reached out for her baby, and even though it made her a little nervous, she handed the boy over. The old man cradled Jesus in his arms and began to praise God.

She would never forget his words:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace.

For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all the nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”

Mary felt a thrill of wonder pass through her. It was another perfect moment, a beautiful confirmation that all the Angel had said was true. Her little Jesus really was the Messiah, the Son of God, and God was going to work everything out.

Once again, she tried to tuck this moment into her heart, remembering how quickly her peace had faded after the shepherds left.

And then the old man met her eyes over the head of her baby, cradled in his arms. He held his look steady, and his face was full of compassion as he said, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul, too.”

Mary felt as if the piercing had already begun. The vague dread that had hung over her since this started crystallized into a horrible understanding.

Her son was born to set her people free. Which meant that for every person who loved him, someone else would hate him. And those would be the people in power.

Her baby was six weeks old, and already she knew she would have to face the worst thing any mother could face. She was going to have to watch her son suffer.

* * * * *

Anna had been a widow for so long, she could barely remember any other life.  

She knew she had been a child once, simple and carefree. She knew she had been a young wife, full of hope. But both of those seemed like other people, perhaps people she had heard about in a story.

The hope had been cut short. Her husband had died after only a few years of marriage, and she had been left with no one.

The obvious thing to do would have been to get married again. To have kids. To lead a normal life as a normal part of the community, but that never happened.

Instead she went often to the temple, to worship and to pray. To talk to the people who came through its courts.

At first many times a week. Then every day. Then she would stay all day.

The woman who had no family, no true home of her own, took the people of God as her family, made the temple of God her home.

And the years went by. And she lived and lived and lived. Days and weeks and months of being all alone, and yet never alone, becoming less and less like other women her age.

Eighty-four years later, she was one of a kind, and she never left the temple at all. She just stayed there, day and night, worshipping, fasting, praying, listening to God.

And she had started to hear him pretty clearly by now.

Everyone knew she was a prophet. That she could see clearly how the commands and promises of God applied to right now. People listened to her, and by now even came to her to ask her about their lives.

These people that had become her family now looked to her to fulfill an important role. She was no one’s mother but everyone’s grandmother, old and wise and full of God’s words.

The day the baby Messiah came into the temple, held in his mother’s arms, was the absolute crowning moment of her long, strange, wonderful life.

Her dear friend Simeon, who knew he would live to see the Messiah born, was the first to spot the little family. When he held that baby in his arms and gave him his blessing, Anna’s eyes filled with tears. She knew how much this moment meant to him. So many times they had talked about the hope that was coming. She knew the joy he felt, and the freedom. Now he was free to go, to stop waiting endlessly and go to his peaceful rest. Anna was eighty-four years old. She felt in every one of her bones how much he longed for that, and she thought her heart would burst with happiness for her friend.

And then she looked around at the temple full of people. Those who worked there. Those who had just come for the day, to fulfill the law, to worship their God.

Her family.

And now the hope of her family had come. The one who would give her loved ones freedom. The one who would save her people.

She gave thanks to God with all her heart.

And then she couldn’t help herself. She went up to everyone who was there and told them the good news. They had all come to this place for the same reason. They were looking for redemption.

She just had to tell them that their redemption was here. Today. With them. In this same place.

She just had to tell them that their family was now complete.

* * * * *  

For all his fears and for all of the craziness of those early years, raising Jesus had turned out to be way easier than Joseph had expected.

I mean, the beginning had definitely been rough.

The baby phase. The crying. The sleeplessness. They had experienced the startling visit of the three kings, and then had fled in fear to Egypt while hearing of massacres back home. They had lived as foreigners there, trying their best to navigate a strange country.

But in time, they had heard the news that they were safe. They had gone home, not just to their temporary home in Bethlehem, but all the way home to Nazareth. They had built a house, settled down, had other children.

For several years now, life had been almost…normal.

And all this time Jesus grew. He was healthy and strong. He was obedient to his parents and kind to his younger brothers. He was a good boy.

And so smart. The things he said! Joseph never had more interesting conversations with anyone than he did with his son.

Everyone in town spoke well of the boy. It was hard to criticize a child who was so good to everyone.

They had always told him who he really was. He seemed to accept it as a matter of course, but he never tried to act like a king. He never demanded things of his mother. He never disrespected his father. He never looked down on his brothers.

It seemed like those rough early days were behind them.

Joseph could tell when he looked in Mary’s eyes that she never stopped worrying. His fears never completely went away either. But they did rest.

The more he knew his adopted son, the more years that passed with the boy behaving just as he should, the more Joseph relaxed. Maybe this wasn’t going to be as daunting as he had thought.

He worked hard to train the boy right. They read the law. They followed the law. Every year they went to Jerusalem for the Passover.

The year the boy was twelve, they traveled to Jerusalem just like they always had. It was a good time, just like it always was. Many of their relatives and other people from their town were with them. It was a joyful group.

At the end of their time there, they all traveled home together, talking over everything they had seen and done in the city. Joseph didn’t see Jesus walking near him, but that wasn’t unusual. He was probably with his cousins or his friends from the village. He was well-liked among the other boys.

It wasn’t until they camped that night that Mary came to him with a worried look on her face. She couldn’t find Jesus anywhere. Joseph tried to calm her down. He went with her to ask the others where Jesus had gone.

But no one had seen him. No one had walked with him. Their blank faces told the truth pretty clearly.

The boy had been left behind in Jerusalem.

Mary came unglued a little, not that Joseph could blame her. The boy was strong and smart, but Jerusalem was a big city, full of strangers, and he was only twelve.

This kid was their most important responsibility. How had they just lost him?

Mary insisted that they head back right away, no resting. They needed to get back to the city even if it meant traveling all night.

Joseph agreed, though he planned to talk her into a few hours of sleep later. She couldn’t go forever without rest.

They left the other children with their relatives.

The traveled as long as they could, slept a little, and then walked on until they arrived back in the city.

The first place they looked was the lodging where they had stayed. No one had seen Jesus since the group left.

Then they visited every place they had been that week.

Then they visited every person they knew in the city.

No one had seen him.

He was nowhere.

Three days of searching. Two nights of unsuccessfully trying to rest. Still, they hadn’t found him.

By now, Mary was a complete wreck. Exhausted. Terrified. Full of shame at her failure as a mother.

Nothing he said helped at all.

There was nothing to do but keep looking.

That third day they went to the temple. Maybe Jesus had gone there. If not, at least they could take a few minutes to pray that he was safe.

When they walked into the temple courts, they saw him immediately. Not dirty and disheveled and hungry as they had feared to find him. Just sitting calmly, obviously well-fed and safe, talking seriously with the teachers of the law who were gathered there.

Joseph could see the looks of amazement on the faces of everyone who was listening to the boy. He knew what they were feeling. He had felt that sense of wonder when he had discussed the law with Jesus. As they approached someone asked a question, and Jesus’s answer was astonishing.

Mary didn’t seem to see any of this. The second she saw her son, she choked back a sob and stumbled toward him.

He didn’t notice her until she broke through the circle of men and threw herself on him.

“How could you do this to us!? Why have you treated us this way? We’ve been searching for you!”

Jesus looked surprised. He didn’t apologize. He didn’t look ashamed. He did hug his mother, but the tone of his voice when he answered her was almost reprimanding.

“Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”

Just as if everything was perfectly clear to him, and he couldn’t see why it wasn’t clear to them, too.

But it wasn’t clear. In Joseph’s mind a good son stayed with his parents. If he had to go somewhere, he thoughtfully told his mother where he was going. He didn’t put her through the anguish that Mary had suffered these days.

In that moment all Joseph’s dreams that this would be easier than expected disappeared.

The boy was good. He was respectful and obedient. But he had his own agenda.

Maybe his parents could count on his kindness, but they couldn’t count on him to be predictable. They could teach and train him, but they couldn’t control him.

They went home that night, and Jesus went with them. He was obedient as always. But there was no taking back those three days.

There was no forgetting what they all knew so clearly now.

He was their son, but he had another Father, too. And like his true Father, his ways were not their ways.

He was beyond them.

———

You can listen to the podcast here.

Hope you get to soak up a bit more holiday cheer this week before heading back into normal on Monday. We’re going to see Star Wars for the fourth time tonight (come on, you’re not surprised) and then partying it up on Thursday with a bunch of friends (and by partying, I probably mean playing a board game until the ball drops and then clinking glasses and going to bed). 

I’ll meet you here with the book list later this week!

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Advent Day 5

John and Michael loved their toys.

John’s favorites were the cars. He had tiny little toy convertibles and wind-up race cars and even a monster truck that could drive over the top of the other cars. The pride of his collection, though, was a remote control Indy car. It was bright yellow with a red stripe down the side and could take corners at high speed. John had saved up all his money to buy that car, and he took good care of it. His dad, who loved how happy John was when he was playing with these toys, encouraged him to keep collecting cars, and he showed him pictures of engines and explained how they worked and which models of cars had the best engines. Many of John’s favorite moments were taking apart his model cars with his dad and learning how to put them together again.

Michael’s favorites were the airplanes. Anything that could fly fascinated him. He collected prop planes and jets, helicopters and even a blimp. His favorite was a remote controlled model of the original Wright Brothers airplane. His father gave it to him for Christmas, and he kept it safe on a high shelf, only taking it down to fly it when the weather was perfect. On those days, though, he would stay outside from morning to night, flying his airplane and learning to make it do tricks. Often his dad would join him on those days, loving every minute of Michael’s happiness with the toy he had given him.  The hours spent with his dad flying his plane were the best of Michael’s childhood.

John and Michael grew up. Their toys became more sophisticated with time, and they learned new ways to enjoy them. In their teen years, they learned to build the more difficult models. They spent hours building miniature engines that really worked. They collected rare editions. Their dad continued to encourage them in their pursuits, knowing that these toys were excellent preparations for the future.

Finally the boys turned 18, and their father had prepared a special surprise for them. For John it was a car of his own, a classic that would need some work to be in pristine condition but was drivable and had a wonderful history. For Michael, it was the lease of a small prop plane and a series of flying lessons. Their dad was so excited when the day finally came that he could take them outside and show them their gifts. He had been waiting so long for them to be old enough to really drive and really fly, and he couldn’t wait to see the looks on their faces the first time they did.

The morning of their birthday arrived. John and Michael were both up early, working on their latest models and speculating about what new models their dad would have bought them to celebrate. When he came in and asked them to step outside, though, the boys were confused. They asked their dad to just bring the presents into their playroom. They didn’t want to leave the projects they were working on, and this room was the most comfortable for opening presents anyway. Their dad just grinned and said they really had to come outside to see their presents. It took some convincing, but finally they agreed to come and take a look.

Their dad held his breath as John and Michael came out of the house and saw the car and the plane parked on the front lawn. He waited for their shouts of excitement and glee. Instead, the boys’ faces fell. They mumbled a thank you but neither boy moved toward his amazing new gift. After an awkward moment, the dad asked what was wrong. The boys were a little ashamed to admit the truth, but since their father had always been so understanding, they finally told him. 

“This car is old and rusty,” John said. “My models are so much more collectible.”

“But you can actually get in this one and drive!” His dad said.

John just shrugged and looked longingly back toward the house where his shiny collection waited.

“That plane looks dangerous,” Michael said in his turn.

“But I have the best teacher to show you how to fly it,” his father said, “and you’ll get to actually soar through the air!”

Michael shivered and thought about how safe he was with his remote-controls.

Out of respect for their father, both boys agreed to sit in their new vehicles, but neither would turn the ignition. As soon as their dad released them, they hurried back inside to their cozy playroom to keep working on their models.

At first, their dad thought they would get used to the idea of having a real car and a real plane, but they didn’t. Weeks went by, and the boys continued to ignore the chance to drive and fly. Instead they spent their days inside with their toys. Their dad was so disappointed. He tried telling them stories about the joy of driving and flying. He tried showing them how he could do both. He tried showing them pictures and videos. The boys enjoyed watching them, but still had no interest in actually getting into a car or a plane. 

Finally, in frustration, their dad came into the playroom one morning and began packing up all their toys  and models.

“What are you doing?” the boys cried.

“I’m taking your toys away. You aren’t children any more. It’s time to move on to real things.”

“How could you be so cruel?” John asked.

“We thought you loved us!” Michael yelled.

And of course, their dad said, “I do.”

“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭13:11-12‬ ‭NIV‬‬

  

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