Advent For When Your Stuffing Is Falling Out

One of my favorite Christmas songs is Selah’s O Come, O Come Emmanuel. It’s all mysterious and dark and heavy.

(So, exactly opposite of what people love most about Christmas.)

It sings deep notes of suffering and waiting and captivity, with a tiny sliver of light that bursts into rejoicing in every chorus. But not even rejoicing because Jesus came right there in the song. It’s a rejoicing because He will come. He’ll come and disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and put to flight death’s dark shadows. He’ll bring victory and save everyone and we’ll all be winning!

But right now in the song? Israel waits. In either exile or slavery, hungry and grumbly, and cold? I think, yes, they must have sometimes been cold.

This is why the Advent is so fascinating to me. Because right in the middle of all the candle-lighting hope and anticipation is lament. In my Advent book, Enuma writes, “In its peculiar way lamenting is an act of faith because it speaks to our understanding that things are not as they should be.”

Almost nothing is as it should be. Families, bodies, the earth’s temperature, justice, my humidifier which has dumped a couple gallons of water all over my floor three nights in a row…

And so we wait (most days) in full belief that God will show up and fulfill his promises. In fact, Enuma writes, the reason we are called to wait on God during Advent is because God always shows up.

He has done this for me time after time, and I continue to be the worst at waiting. Also, suffering. I would never have made it as an Israelite. I’d have been that a-hole in the back whining first for food, then complaining about the manna (God, we just had this yesterday), then wanting to go back home TO SLAVERY because I’m too short-sighted and anti-suffering to understand things like the promised land, which lay just around the corner. Everyone would be blaming me for the entire 40 years.

And so acknowledging my own lament and then lighting a candle that physically demonstrates patience and hope and the belief that God will show up feels like a sliver of light that bursts into a dark and gloomy nothing-is-as-it-should-be world.

Nothing makes me say Come, Lord Jesus more than drunk phone calls from my brother. We’re a disheveled bunch, held together by thin threads with giant gaps at the seams and stuffing falling out all over the place. It’s not a coincidence that Christmas is when all our stuffing falls out, by the way.  With all the expectations and Christmas-movie-merriment trying to work around divorce and mileage and scheduling and kid-sharing, with a drug addiction or two thrown in for good measure some years, plus a case of Coors Light. If you’ve known me for a few years, you’ll remember my spoofy Holiday mailers in ’05 and ’06 about the magic of watching Mortal Combat III with my brothers on Christmas Eve by the light of a 4-foot fiber optic rotating tree at my dad’s while the toast burned. Anyway, disaster, is what I’m saying.

(Which is so opposite my in-laws, it’s comical. Last year J’s family talked through how we would all feel if our gifts to one another were supporting various charities instead of gifting and opening actual things. I personally love selecting and wrapping the perfect gift, and so my sentiment was equally Great Idea, and Oh.  This happened to be the same year my brothers all called one-by-one wanting to cancel Christmas because everyone was in a tight spot and felt they had nothing to give.

I was like: I got it! Why don’t the Hartmans gift to the Wilsons?!)

Come, Lord Jesus.

And it’s not just us. I have friends who will be running in circles collecting their own handfuls of leaked-out-fluff. Friends who are not in relationship with one parent or the other, or who will be celebrating their first Christmas without their brother or mom or six-year-old or never-was-year-old, who will be lamenting the unfairness of breast cancer, or trying to keep uncle out of the liquor cabinet. Someone I know will inevitably spend Christmas Eve at Taco Bell.

And so as we stuff each other’s fluff back in, and we find the brother out in the cold somewhere addicted to something and beg him home, and narrow down that perfect hour when all three nieces are available despite their sugar comas and other families, and we manage double the amount of parents, step-siblings, grandparents and ex-wives than normal, and we overlook past resentments, and we choose to open the doors for each other instead of closing them, and we mourn those things lost among us and the ones that never were, and we agree to focus on something other than the brokenness for just a minute: we light a candle.

The flame will represent equal parts lament, waiting, and hope.

Things are not as they should be, we’ll say. But we are waiting for God to show up.  We believe he will, and we sure hope he restores everything.

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2011: stealth deliverer of good things

Before I write anything, I would like to share that “ninja spanker” was my top search this week. Where do people come up with these things? And also, how did my space become relevant to ninja spankers? (As I type this, I recall mentioning Spanker Banker after Krewe du Vieux sometime in 2008, and also dressing up as a ninja for Halloween that year and fighting pirates on Jackson Square. The internet don’t forget, y’all).

That said, it’s been two years since I did a year in review, two years since I wrote some resolutions, and consequently, two years since I resolved some resolutions. In the two year gap, I got engaged, got married, moved to a new city, bought a house, started 3 new jobs, graduated, became licensed, acquired a couple more nieces- you know: Almost all of the most important things that can happen to a person besides being born. Now that I sit down to review last year, it seems like nothing happened.  But alas. It did.

January  Co-piloted a tiny plane from Belize City to PG. Swam in a blue creek. Climbed into a cave. Met some fun UWisc Physical Therapy peeps. Watched the Rose Bowl on a rigged up TV, under a thatch roof outside, sitting on benches removed from a mini-van. Spent nights in tiny cabins above water. Ate seafood caught on a kayak with a spear. Took a 6 hour bus to Cayo. Shed tears over this discussion with my former supervisor: “Your work is being used here, Brooke. Every day.” Discovered God doesn’t need a person to use a person. Understood that sometimes we don’t even know we’ve been used. Said goodbye to the BZ. Again.

More pics: here

February  Worked a 16-hour shift during Snowpocolypse 2011 and felt like a Lamb in a Bow Tie. Discovered, via Jeff, that cross-country skiing on the Monon during an ice storm is possible, and acceptable. Went to New Orleans and spent time with my good ole friends and co-workers. Got my Haydels King Cake. Got my Abita. Got my Steins, my Surreys, my house party with a nice brownie spread, my 2 days of 65/sunny, got my washboard band, got my Kim, got my Mandy. Could not have been happier until Tator Tachos appeared. Realized (besides the availability of junk food & supportive social worker friends) why the NOLA feels like home: it’s where I fell in love! J and my’s entire do-I-like-you-do-I-love-you-I-totally-love-you-let’s-get-a-daiquiri-let’s-get-married happened here. Sigh :)

March Went to Cuba Belize Mexico Belize Cuba Belize. Cuba with some good friends. (If you’re an immigration officer, I would like to state for the record I oppose the embargo.)  Had many rooftop mojitos. I neither confirm nor deny the Cuban cigar or the night dancing in Old Havana. Listened to old men argue about baseball in the center of the park. Watched a Cuban baseball game. Became entranced by and forever drawn to Cuba and its music. Thanks friends!

More pics: here

April  Unveiled Brooke 3.0 to the public. Not so bad, 30. Received breakfast in bed from a dude I thank God for by the minute, and a tent. Promptly camped in the backyard. Celebrated Lil’s 3rd birthday (where does time go?) Took down the Christmas tree… and put it in the Monon. Can you find it? Spent Easter with the Hartmans in WI, and got the Easter flu, which everyone mistook for morning sickness. If that had been the case, I’d be 9 months pregnant today. Told you guys.

May Started a new job! Waved goodbye to the hospital (although I still pick up ER shifts here and there when they need help) and joined a private practice in Carmel. Hosted the Kaminski Fam for Memorial Day and ran around Lucas Oil. Celebrated J’s birthday. He continues to be in his 30s. That’s all he would want you to know, I think.

June Celebrated our first anniversary with a romantic evening alone the Hartmans, Kaminiskis, Sellers, Sharon, Pat and 2500 others for the 18th annual Indy Nite Ride. Jeff and I enjoyed a burger at Bub’s after everyone left. The event has facilitated use of the following statement all year to justify anything we’ve wanted ever since: Well, this can be our anniversary meal/gift/trip since we didn’t really have one? Celebrated Maycie’s 2nd Birthday. Love her.

July Breckenridge! This was our anniversary trip, since we didn’t really have one. Also, it was truly the anniversary and location of our honeymoon! Hiked some hikes. Snapped some pics. Ate some good food. Drank with friends. Hot-tubbed with family. Surfed on snowfields. Biked down Vail pass. Garden of the Gods. Pike’s Peak. Celebrated a Hartman (the original Hartman- well, not the original original, but the Ron & Kathy Hartman ) Anniversary. This one gets 2 rows of pics, because I’m the boss of this space, and it’s what I want to do.

  More pics: here

August Hosted the Sellers/Wilsons for Labor Day. Shucked some corn. Grilled some food. Played with some noopy nieces. Dad’s family reunion in Brown County. Spent some time in Nashville and a good night at a Brewery. Hosted Elaine & Doug, also Sprinky. Cut into a sex cake. Found out E&D are having a boy! Can’t wait to meet brand new Baby Luke.

    More pics: here

September visited some good (fun!) friends in NYC. This was our anniversary trip, since we didn’t really have one. These friends appreciate my knowledge of pop culture, which is sometimes a foreign language to J (although he is the one who first informed me of the Kim/Chris split and insisted I see Bridesmaids. He heard both on sports radio). Observed 9/11. Held the Statue of Liberty in our palms. Went to the Catskills. Ate some good food. Played with an adorable baby. Participated in the first bonfire of Fall. Played in a kickball tournament, concussed myself on the pavement. Celebrated Callie’s first birthday. Love her. Joined a small group at church. Made some friends.

   More pics: here

October Destin! I know I’ve said this before, but this was our anniversary trip, since we didn’t really have one. Plus it was the location of our other honeymoon, between the ceremony and actual honeymoon in Breck. Spent some time with the Grampies. Spent some time at the Blossfolly (ceremony beachouse) beach, for nostalgia’s sake. Ate dinner at Henderson Park Inn, where God gave us the most amazing anniversary sunset ever imagined.

More pics: here and here

November Hosted the fam(s) for Thanksgiving: Hartmans, Sellers, the Grampies, Wilsons, Kaminskis, Sharon, & Grams. Got rear ended. Saw THREE rainbows in one day. Spent a noopy weekend with Callie.

December Watched the Badgers win the Big Ten Championships. For reasons unexplained, my nieces started calling me Uncle Brooklyn. Dressed up in snowflake placemats & battery operated lights for a party. Celebrated our engageaversary in Chicago on the 96th floor. Celebrated Christmas in Iowa, Wisconsin, Indy, and Sprinky (not a place, but a BFF). Celebrated the last moments of 2011 with good old friends and good new friends.

          More pics: here

The End! Cheers to all for such a great year, and thanks for the friends who hosted us.

The Great Snow of 2008, and other silly stories.

I think you probably heard, but it snowed in New Orleans.

This was not just a little dusting; it was a full inch. School was canceled. Businesses pushed employees outside to run willy-nilly through the yard and throw snowballs. The entire city fell apart at the age line and turned six-and-a-half, simultaneously.

I’d heard there might be snow on the North shore, so when my mom woke me up with a text that said, “snow?” I turned on the TV and rolled over. I only jumped out of bed when Good Morning America and the Today show were preempted by local news standing at Audubon Park frantically and joyfully screaming about how blinding it is when it falls heavily. And white! I waited patiently for Geraldo to show up and walk sideways into the wind.

Kids were rolling around and spreading snow all over their bodies. Adults were sledding on suit coats and building thousands of teeny, tiny 6-inch snowmen, and then adorning them with full-sized hats and scarves and carrots and sticks. We were encouraged not to venture out if we didn’t have to, because the roads were very, very bad. The bridges and overpasses were closed, and government offices closed in two parishes. I ran outside to take pictures, and found clumps of people gathered all over the sidewalk and streets staring up at the sky. Most had their tongues out.

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I called the Red Cross to make sure they were still open before I ventured out in the snow that wasn’t yet accumulating, and they asked me if I was comfortable driving in “this”. I told them they could count on me. They said good, because Orleans parish was in a Level One snow emergency and they were in the midst of pulling together staff and volunteers for two standby cold weather shelters.

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All day stations played, “Let it snow” over and over, and it has since been referred to as the Great Snow of 2008. If you go to Tulane’s website, you’ll see an entire photo album and slide show documenting happy students playing in the lawn with scarves and hats to lure prospective students into thinking, “See? We have Christmas, too!”

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It was a joyous and happy Christmas miracle. It melted by dinner, and the next day was 65 and sunny. Just how I like my snow—beautiful, then gone.

Here are some pics of the Christmasy city yesterday-

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Santa and His half-brass Band

When right in the mall there arose such a clatter, I got up from the food court to see what was the matter.

Only in New Orleans would Santa and half a brass band saunter around the mall singing.


Finals Week

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As of now, I am one-quarter Master Social Worker.
(You can call me Master for short.)