Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Deeper than the rolling sea.

Return, O LORD; how long will you tarry? be gracious to your servants. Satisfy us by your loving-kindness in the morning; so shall we rejoice and be glad all the days of our life. Make us glad by the measure of the days that you afflicted us and the years in which we suffered adversity. Show your servants your works and your splendor to their children. May the graciousness of the LORD our God be upon us; prosper the work of our hands; prosper our handiwork. Psalm 90:13–17

The Psalmist doesn’t mess around. “Afflicted” is a pretty strong action verb. There is nothing easy about these days with which we have been entrusted. But the easy garden life only led to curious conversations with the Evil One.

Pain and sadness drive us back to His bosom.  It is in His lovingkindness that we rejoice and nothing else. It is through His grace that the work of our hands prospers. It is not we ourselves, less we boast and confuse ourselves with thinking we are gods.

And the refrain that echoes throughout today’s reading is a plea: remember how frail You have made us. We are each broken creatures, beautifully and wonderfully made, but busted, and in the process of restoration.

And the point of the advent season is to remind us that He is all in, with outstretched arms, totally committed to the healing process. He is not some force who started the big ball spinning and then took one giant step backwards, to watch from a distance.

He is the good shepherd who seeks those who are lost, willing to lay down His life for the wandering sheep.

I shall not want.

A choice.

To rejoice in His green pastures and His cool waters.

I will be glad.

A decision.

May I see His works and splendor.


Magnify the LORD God.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Sing to Him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.

Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you. Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide all the nations upon earth. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you. Psalm 67:3–5

Let the sea make a noise and all that is in it, the lands and those who dwell therein. Let the rivers clap their hands, and let the hills ring out with joy before the LORD, when He comes to judge the earth. In righteousness shall He judge the world and the peoples with equity. Psalm 98

I have a very tender sort of weepy inwardly and sometimes outwardly sort of heart. I ache. Which feels incongruous with the Rejoice I say again Rejoice mandate under which I live.

For instance, it feels like a punch in the stomach whenever I hear God Bless America. Because somehow I instinctively take it to mean…over and above all of those other peoples out there.  And I weep. At the hardheartedness of those I love.

Actually the most joyous moments of a very full Christmas was Christmas Eve after all of carol-singing and candle-lighting services and it was almost still in front of the fireplace stacked with a huge stash of wood.

Cameron came over with a friend and I gave the hungry men leftovers, and then Wali drove down from Phoenix and he was wiped-out, hadn’t eaten all day hungry too, and I found something for him too, and Nicole and Manuel were here and Charly and Markus had finished their secret preparations and Cameron pulled out his guitar and Alan distributed drums and miscellaneous treasures from the percussion bag that magically convert all into musicians. Well, except for me.

And they sang and played and sang some more through all of everyone’s heart songlists. And sometimes we had to look up the words with google and it was one of those belly-full-to-the-brim moments.

And Ehab is from Palestine, and he is a broken-hearted people from an occupied land. He is kind and gentle and strong. And broken-hearted.

And once again, His word met me this morning as I ached yet again in the early darkness. And the thing about the Rejoice, I say it again rejoice mandate is that it was written from prison. And the very next line is Remember the LORD is coming soon. Soonish. In the big scheme of things.

And let the rivers clap their hands, and let the hills ring out with joy before the LORD. And Judgment Day is not to be feared, because He has already paid the price and broken the power of sin. And Judgment Day is not to be feared because He judges with righteousness. Wrong will be made right. He shall judge the world and the peoples with equity.

Restoration will take place.

 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
And He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:3-5

This is the point of all of this, the gold-gilt angels and felt-on-wood Nativity scenes and scented candles and almost-eaten boxes of chocolates. For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross.

Joy to the world.

Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.

Saturday, December 26, 2015


My soul magnifies the Lord,
                  and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. Luke 1:46

Well, the floor has been swept up one more time, reaching deep under the couches and cushions for lost tags or misplaced gifts (or perhaps those purposefully left behind).  The fridge has been sorted, a bit of the feasting chaos has been ordered to make room for the perishables in Jack and Mary Anne’s fridge after I took them to the airport early this morning for a week of Urbana. The fire is crackling and my theoretical hike through some canyon has been postponed because the wind is whistling through crispy cold air this morning.

Christmas was basically idyllic.  And after I typed it, I looked idyllic up, and it was the right word: pleasing or picturesque in natural simplicityAs usual a lot of folks gathered around the sweet rolls (one heart-shaped pan without pecans for Dre), jalepeƱo and bacon poppers for Cameron, bacon-wrapped dates for Nicole and a no-cheese but fake crab and leeks and mushroom quiche for Wali who hates cheese, a roasted corn and green chile quiche for Heather, and Charly and Marcus on their way to surf Mexico made a spinach and tomato quiche as well; bowlfuls of crunchy sesame granola from Jenny served with yogurt in beautiful hand thrown bowls from Alene; fruit ambrosia and croissants from momma and a fruit platter from Mary Anne. Adam brought cinnamon-flavored whiskey for the hot chocolate and we popped champagne to celebrate the birth of Emmanuel, God-with-us.

It was Ehab from Palestine’s first Christmas. So while the rolls were baking I stitched together a stocking from two red and green placemats and filled it with socks and chocolates and a favorite book wrapped in newspaper. There were some pretty wonderful gifts under the tree: welded gifts from Alan: a door knocker, a towel rack, a key fob and even a framed metaphor; a carefully stitched and bejeweled Everette rocking unicorn from Nicole; water colors from Dre that speak more than the bright splashes of paint. And lots and lots of books and music. And coffee and cups. And good notes. But my favorite part came before the presents.

Dre did the pre-present reflection this year. She read Mary’s Magnificat out loud, and then with her extensive social work experience with teenage pregnancies she described Mary’s circumstances, her reality in a culture that stoned adulterers.

But it’s not about circumstances. It’s about perception. And the thing about magnifying…it doesn’t change what is viewed, but how it is viewed. It doesn’t make something bigger. It shows us what is already there, but may not be clearly seen. So we played Salad Bowl. Each person wrote down something on a scrap of paper that is more clearly seen now, a magnified moment of the year.

And the thing about Salad Bowl, a sort of complicated combination of Taboo and charades, is that no matter how obscure or poorly worded a phrase might be, is that eventually it guessed, again and again so that we don’t forget: Arrived at Blackfish, or New City, New Challenges, New Adventures. And it was pretty easy to guess whose was whose afterwards. But it was good to hear the tender stories, when God showed Himself to be more than the circumstances.

And yes, He has shown strength with His arm; and He has filled the hungry with good things,

And one of our curled up on top of cushions and pushed-around couches with popcorn movies on the living room wall at the end of a very full day was Inside Out. And life is not easy. And in the pain is goodness. And there is sadness in joy. And joy in sadness. And both are necessary for happiness. And sadness stops the body and gets you to reflect on what’s really happening. And Joy struggles with those blue pauses and rushes about with yellow balls here and there and everywhere.

But it’s okay to be hungry. Because Mary Anne’s Colombian Christmas soup ajiaco with plops of sour cream and sprinkles of cilantro and chunks of avocado served in black clay bowls tastes so much better after a rousing game of volleyball in a blustery park. As does smoked salmon with slices of tomato and cucumber. And panettone sprinkled with powdered sugar and spread with Nutella for Manuel from Naples.

And as each of us asks questions about pain and life and the hand of a loving God, I have no clearly articulated answers. I can’t really do a google-search for an acceptable comfort. I will never forget when Charly first lived with us. And she rushed from her room on 9/11, weeping these very questions, shaking a figurative fist at the circumstances and the God who holds them.

It is not tidy like my living room.

 But it is well. Well with my soul. Because of the painful pauses I can see more clearly.

My soul magnifies the Lord.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

And NPR just clicked on, once again.

For God alone my soul in silence waits. Psalm 62:6


It is never silent at the Voelkel home.

But if I am still and listen very carefully, I can hear the murmur of the rooftop heater.

Because Dustin right away rode his bicycle over after dropping off E. at school yesterday. And when I asked my brother Scott who knows stuff like this for a recommendation, he said that Dustin is the best furnace man in Tucson. And that first sentence has a lot of prepositions and adverbs.

Thank you.

And this morning while my coffee was getting ready to bubble, I replaced the burned-out strand of living room white twinkly lights. I went to three stores yesterday and only found barren shelves. But Alan went to Home Depot last night to return a barely used pipe wrench and bought me a box of 150 bulbs last night. And some white flowers that he put in a vase.

Thank you.

And Elizabeth sewed Manuel’s stocking together yesterday while I worked on Adam’s. And I am pretty sure she has never done this before but she fitted red, green and white like an Italian flag across the top and there is the coolest fringe icicling down, and now it is hung up with the rest of them, by the chimney with care.

Thank you.

And Nicole dug into her storehouses of fabrics and yarns and beads and cut open a bracelet to pour off colored beads to use as baubles on the felt Christmas tree I was stitching. And she volunteered to go pick up a Brooklyn Pizza for me because I was pretty tired but it was okay because I already had a chicken in the crockpot.

Thank you.

And Dre and Adam came over for dinner Thursday night and we ate pork loin simmered in leftover mulled drink and chopped cabbage and crisped tortillas and I opened an early gift from her: three canvased paintings of her three favorite memories with her momma. A quiet conversation of hope at next door Falora’s over black potato and date pizza drizzled with truffle oil and a free bottle of Chianti because we brought over Jefferson Starship to spin on his record player, a magnolia from our road trip visiting kinfolk south of the Mason-Dixon line where we ate dinner with Uncle Bill and Emmy at The Bell Meade Country Club, met with Ellen on a Caney Fork boat dock, just down the river from the boys camp, wended through the very Great Smokey mountains and read handwritten letters from my cousin dying of AIDS in an ‘80s isolation which was a pretty lonely place to be. And under the Brooklyn Bridge. We went for a lot of walks along that Brooklyn Bridge pathway and she also took me to see the Donmar Warehouse presentation of Julius Caesar; Dre bought my ticket so Cesar was stabbed twenty-three times in my rather surprised lap.

Thank you.

And if I listen very carefully, I can hear the murmur of His love.

And last night I fell asleep once again during the movie on the wall. Surprise. But Alan and Manuel and Daniel and Elizabeth made lots of popcorn in the old aluminum pot and watched the Grinch Who Stole Christmas. And the opening scenes are filled with Seuss-creatures elbowing and poking and scrambling and reaching and grabbing to the tune of Jingle Bells blaring in the background. And it reminded me how tired I was so I went to sleep thinking of to do lists and moving the couches and cleaning out cupboards so there is more room to store stuff and oh yes we are doing a face painting and Christmas carols at the refugee apartments at two. And I have a lot to get done before then.

However, if I listen very carefully, I can hear the murmur of His love.

And Daniel just yawned and stretched his way into the living room and is sitting on the couch staring at the empty fireplace because Manuel scooped out all the ashes last night. He has one more presentation before the semester’s end and we all listened to his powerpoint presentation last night because he gets nervous. And Jack and Pippen just delivered the morning headlines about the U of A football game.

And if I listen very carefully, I can hear the murmur of His love.

Be still.

My soul waits for the Lord.

Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought me in safety to this new day: Preserve me with your mighty power, that I may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all I do direct me to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.

Your purpose; through Jesus Christ my Lord.


Thursday, December 17, 2015

it's kinda too bad I have to roll down the car windows after that nice warm shower, but everything is foggy.

Your love, O LORD, reaches to the heavens, and Your faithfulness to the clouds. Psalm 36:5

I know that it will be stinking cold outside. It is cold inside. We finally, cleverly, figured out that the furnace doesn’t work as we all clump in front of the fireplace swaddled in jackets and blankets and more jackets.

Yesterday Arizona was the coldest state in the lower forty-eight.

But I also typed gift number 985. When there are still coals glowing in the morning, reminds me of His faithfulness. And the big old oleander stump is still crackling.

And I know that there are going to be a jillion icy stars out there.

But my bathing suit is still damp from yesterday.

And my fingers will turn white when I scrape the thick frost off of the windshield with my plastic ParkTucson card.

But from Campbell and Broadway I will see the big cloud of spotlight-lit steam coming up from Kaiser Pool.

And Jim the coach will be kneeling down by the edge, taking the water’s temperature, repeating again and again, “if it’s wet, it’s ice,” to all of the shivering swimmers.

And after the first 200, I am going to feel just fine.

But yesterday all that was said at the after school staff meeting was to brace ourselves for the hardest day at school ever. Not to take it personally. And not to engage with all of the middle school drama.  That the kids will be flipping out over final exams and the Christmas presents from the fire department that will be the only present a bunch of them will get. And breakfast this morning might be the last breakfast they get for two weeks too.

And even though my little school seems pretty crazy a lot of the time, for some of my kiddos it is as close to normal as they get.

And I have another five dozen cookies in zip-lock bags for the refugee Center from my momma. 

His love reaches to the heavens, and His faithfulness to the clouds.

And my heart can sing that refrain all day long because I already know the words.

Friday, December 11, 2015

And wild and sweet the words repeat.

Do not fret yourself because of evildoers; do not be jealous of those who do wrong. For they shall soon wither like the grass, and like the green grass fade away. Put your trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and feed on its riches. Take delight in the LORD, and He shall give you your heart’s desire. Commit your way to the LORD and put your trust in Him, and He will bring it to pass. He will make your righteousness as clear as the light and your just dealing as the noonday. Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for Him. Psalm 37:1-7

There is a low-grade fretting accelerando in the background noise of my mind and soul. And my spirit.

A harsh staccato has twisted and tangled itself into the peace and joy and good will of Hark the Herald Angels Sing.

And the normal sweet clutter and mild angst of Christmas in America with lists to do and Amazon reviews to scan and quick pop-ins to Buffalo Exchange and rushing out the door holding yet another towel-wrapped two loaves of bread and a Trader Joe’s bottle of wine just a little bit late to the next event has an intensified pounding percussion section of blaring headlines of fear and hatred and finger-pointing.

Americans are more fearful about the likelihood of another terrorist attack than at any other time since the weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, a gnawing sense of dread that has helped lift Donald Trump to a new high among Republican primary voters, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.
In the aftermath of attacks by Islamic extremists in Paris and in San Bernardino plurality of the public views the threat of terrorism as the top issue facing the country. A month ago, only 4 percent of Americans said terrorism was the most important problem; now, 19 percent say it is, above any other issue.


And I allow my eyes to be wrested away from His lovingkindness and power to stare at the impending gloom loom with a sneer over all of those sun-faded Nativity scenes.

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song

Be still.

Stillness is a bit elusive. NPR radio has already clicked on at the Voelkel house. The dishwasher is sloshing. And a faucet is dripping somewhere.

But all of the glass in the picture frames and window frames and gold-gilt mirror frame reflect sparkle lights back and forth and back again. The stockings are hung by the chimney with care. Charly and Marcus are coming this year. And Wali. And Cameron. And Elizabeth from Mexico moved in yesterday. And she loves the sort of awkward front bedroom, the one that Rogelio says is visited at night by a woman who walks through the walls, and she already up, about to run around the park after she eats a tangerine and an apple.

And. And. And.

But Giovani’s star shines stretches out from the top of the tree.

Buon Natale.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Be still.

The St. Francis fountain in the greenhouse splashes. Or was that one of the tilapia in Alan’s big fish tank?

Be still.

 Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

Be still.

Be still before the LORD.

The LORD God Almighty.