Typewriters, and the Future of Vermont

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Last Sunday afternoon, a friend invited me to accompany her to a screening of Doug Nichol’s new documentary film, “California Typewriter,” at Middlebury’s Town Hall Theater.

Sunday afternoons are usually times I set aside to write this column, but the opportunity to go with an (adult!) friend to watch a film (for adults!) was too good to pass up.

As you may have guessed, I don’t get out much. The last film I saw in a theater was the animated Disney feature, “Moana,” watched a year ago in the company of my children. So you may take my film criticism with a grain of salt, but I’d encourage anyone who’s able to see “California Typewriter” to do so. It’s a beautifully made and thought provoking documentary — an excellent way to spend two winter hours.

“California Typewriter” is a love song to typewriters, specifically the manual typewriter. Its praises are sung by voices including actor Tom Hanks, musician John Mayer, historian David McCullough, and playwright Sam Shepard. The film’s title is taken from the name of a family-run typewriter store in Berkeley, California — one of the last standing typewriter repair shops in America. And the tension that the film explores is: Will the peculiar retro charm of the typewriter enable it to endure (and California Typewriter to remain in business) in our fast-paced digital culture?

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent. 

Christmas, and the In-Between

This is the reflection I gave at our church’s Christmas Eve service last night, for those who’d like to read it. I wish you all a happy Christmas, and peace in the in-betweens.

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You are one half of an infertile couple. For years, you’ve prayed that God would bless you with a child. It seems a good request, a simple request; after all, you’ve been obedient to God, pulled up stakes and left everything behind to follow Him. In return, God’s made some nice-sounding promises about creating a great nation from your line. But the years keep passing, one after another after another, your body wrinkling, sagging, aging past the point of possibility. Sometimes you wonder if God has forgotten you – or maybe you didn’t quite understand Him correctly?

***

You are a prostitute, surrounded by the indestructible walls of a large oasis city. Perhaps you feel trapped by both your profession and your location. There’s not much time to think, though: Your family depends on you. But sometimes you go up to the roof of your house and look out over the city wall, and you think back on all the decisions – some that you made and some that you didn’t – that got you to this place.

***

You are a young widow, left without husband or children in a culture where both are essential to your security and worth. Out of a sense of love and duty – and perhaps lacking better options – you’ve chosen to accompany your mother-in-law back to her hometown. The people here despise your own people group: They deride you as the offspring of an ancient incest. In order to support yourself and your mother-in-law, you become a migrant scavenger, following the field laborers to pick up any grain they’ve left behind. Your back aches, your legs ache, and sometimes you ask yourself whether you’ll always feel like an old rag left out flapping on the line.

***

You are the youngest son in a family with seven older brothers: Seven older brothers who are tall, handsome, and brave. While your brothers go out to the glory of the battlefield, you’re left behind to tend the livestock, to fetch, carry, run errands. As you spend hours in the pasture, watching the sheep graze under the hot sun, you keep a sharp eye out for predators, you write songs in your head, and you wonder whether anybody will ever notice you – whether there will ever be anything special left for you.

 

These are the situations in which we first meet four well-known Biblical characters: Abraham the father of many, Rahab the harlot with a heart of gold, Ruth the model daughter-in-law, and David the future king. These characters have something in common: All are ancestors of Jesus, part of Matthew’s list of Jesus’s lineage.

If you’ve spent time in church or Sunday School, you may be familiar with the happy endings of each of their stories:

How Abraham and his wife Sarah miraculously had a son, Isaac, when Abraham was 100 years old – 25 years after God first promised to make Abraham a great nation.

How Rahab helped two Hebrew spies who were scoping out Jericho, so she and her family were the sole survivors when Jericho’s walls came tumbling down.

Rahab would became Ruth the Moabite’s other mother-in-law, after Rahab’s son Boaz spotted Ruth gleaning in his field and married her.

And David, the runt of the litter, got picked out of the whole lineup of his brothers, chosen by God as Israel’s king.

We may be so familiar with the happily-ever-after aspect of these stories that it clouds our reading, and we view the hard parts through the lens of the coming joy; we like happy endings.

But tonight, I’m not as interested in the happy endings as I am in the in-betweens. I’m interested in the long years of waiting: the helplessness, hopelessness, and just plain boredom that each of these people must have experienced until God graciously delivered them from childlessness, prostitution, destitute widowhood, and overlooked little-brotherness.

And I’m interested in the years that followed, in what happened after happily-ever-after. Because their happy endings weren’t the end of the story: There were still diapers to change, meals to cook, dishes to wash, livestock to tend, heartaches to endure, countries to run.

What got them through the years of pain and the years of mundane? What gets us through them?

The fact is, we spend most of our lives in the in-between. There are moments of amazing grace, of miracles, of salvation. But these are often separated by years of waiting: helpless, hopeless, bored. There are diapers to change, meals to cook, dishes to wash, livestock to tend, heartaches to endure, jobs to do. We have Christmas — and we have the other 364 days of the year.

But here’s the thing: Abraham, Rahab, Ruth, and David were always part of a bigger plan – a plan that dwarfed their own personal happy endings. The baby, the deliverance, the wealthy husband, and the kingdom weren’t the most important things after all – the most important thing was that each of these people was getting the world a little closer to Jesus, adding another branch onto the family tree of our Savior.

So, what does this have to do with you and me?

When Jesus came into the world, he made it possible for God to adopt all of us as His children. Paul writes in Romans 8: “Those who are led by the spirit of God are sons of God….The Spirit himself testifies that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ[.]”

In other words: We’ve been grafted into Jesus’s family tree. Those who follow Jesus are the continuation of his lineage, the extension of the story that began with Abraham, Rahab, Ruth, and David. Our lives may feel helpless, hopeless, or boring; we may be waiting for our happy ending, we may feel stuck in our mundane daily life, but our lives are being woven into the tapestry of God’s great plan to save the world – His plan that began with Jesus and continues through us. We are part of a story so much bigger than our own.

And the best thing is: We already know that this bigger story will have a happy ending.

The most repeated phrase in the Bible is one that echoes throughout Jesus’s birth, spoken by angels to his mother, father, and a rag-tag gang of shepherds: “Do not be afraid.” In her book Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, Ann Voskamp writes, “All fear comes from thinking that somewhere God’s love will end.” Abraham, Rahab, Ruth, and David trusted in God’s love, which enabled them to leave behind what was comfortable and known, and to take the brave steps of faith that would eventually lead them to their happy endings. God’s love never ended for them: it was there through both the soaring and the mundane chapters of their stories, and it continued on through the generations that followed – all the way down to us.

This Christmas Eve, may we sink into the wonder of this realization that we are heirs of Abraham, Rahab, Ruth, David, and Jesus himself. Let’s commemorate a joyous birth together as family: The birth of this God-child, who is both the miraculous start of God’s great happy-ending plan, and at the same time is a baby mired in the mundane and in pain – a displaced infant on the rough outskirts of an empire who will need to be fed, to have his diapers changed, to become a refugee fleeing genocide.

And the other 364 days of the year, may we live in the knowledge that all the diapers, all the meals, all the dishes, all the heartache, all our days and nights – all of these things matter, because they are all part of our stories, which are all part of God’s great story.

May the assurance of His endless love give us peace and courage, not only in happy endings, but in the in-betweens.

This Little Light

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One week ago, my daughters made beeswax candles for the first time. Before you get impressed, this was not the sort of candle making that involves dipping wicks into a vat of hot wax; our sort of candle making involved ordering sheets of colored beeswax and a spool of wicking. Cut a length of wicking about one inch longer than the beeswax, lay it at one end of the sheet, and roll. Voila!

It’s one of the simplest and most satisfying crafts our family has ever done. Everyone – from our four-year-old on up – was able to produce nice-looking and useable candles. The older girls got fancy, rolling their beeswax sheets into spiral tapers and cutting shapes from different colors to decorate their candles.

My parents hosted the candle making in their mudroom, perfect because the floor’s radiant heat made the beeswax more pliable. All together, my daughters and some friends spent two hours rolling beeswax on that floor, producing an impressive number of candles.

Most of these candles were gifts for friends and teachers. That’s the beauty of winter candle making: No matter what you celebrate this time of year, it involves candles.

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent. 

Missing Santa Claus

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Our family missed Santa Claus this year.

Ever since we moved to Vermont seven years ago, our family has attended the “Very Merry Middlebury” festivities in downtown Middlebury on the first Saturday of December. This annual celebration, designed to welcome the winter holiday season, includes a hot chocolate hut, horse-drawn carriage rides, a scavenger hunt for themed ornaments in Main Street’s shop windows, and various craft fairs. The Sheldon Museum’s spectacular model train diorama is open to the public, as are the impressive entries in the Vermont Folklife Center’s gingerbread creation contest. Inspired children can make (and eat) their own graham cracker “gingerbread” houses at Ilsley Public Library.

Santa Claus himself begins the day, riding into Middlebury atop a town fire engine.

We look forward to the Very Merry Middlebury tradition every year. But this year, there was some consternation among the adults in our family when we noticed that the schedule listed Santa’s arrival at 9:15 AM.

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent.

For the Boy Next Door

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Girls like swords, too!

When we moved into our current house, we moved next door to a boy. He’s an only child, and we share part of our long driveway with him and his mother.

The boy next door, whom I’ll call Theo, was nine years old at the time – a year older than my eldest daughter. The first time we met Theo was the day we took possession of our house: He and his mother joined us for pizza on our lawn, since we had no furniture in the house. My girls were so loud, and there were so many of them; I was certain that they’d overwhelm Theo. On top of that, my oldest daughters had recently picked up the sort of “girls rule, boys drool,” attitude that seems to predominate early elementary school culture.

In short: I couldn’t imagine much of a future for Theo and my daughters.

Click here to continue reading my latest “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent.

Curiouser and Curiouser

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“The flags are lowered again! What happened this time, Mama?”

I was driving three of my daughters along Route 7, down to Brandon for a rehearsal of their homeschool production of Alice in Wonderland.

The last time I’d attempted to frame tragedy in age-appropriate terms had been only a month before, when area businesses flew their flags at half-mast to mourn the deaths of 59 people after a mass shooting in Las Vegas. This time around, we were mourning the shooting deaths of 26 people at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

I took a deep breath, and tried to arrange my words.

***

Lately I’ve been interested in how nature seems to be mirroring the prevailing mood in this country. Or is it the opposite: Is the prevailing national mood a reaction, at least in part, to natural events? Further: Am I overgeneralizing when I write of a “prevailing national mood?” Is it most accurate to state that nature seems to mirror my mood, or the moods of myself and my nearest friends?

You see how written expression can become complicated.

Click here to continue reading my latest attempt at written expression in this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent. 

I Feel Sad About Target

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It’s not often that Vermont makes the national news, but on October 19, Vermont leaped to the top of my NPR news feed with the headline: “After 55 Years, Target Will Finally Open a Store in Vermont.”

It may shock out-of-state readers to learn that Target, the retail giant with over 1,800 stores across the nation, lacked a Vermont location before now. But it’s true: When my eight-year-old daughter heard me relaying the news to my husband, she asked, “What’s Target?”

(My eldest daughter reminded her: “Remember? It’s that store in California that has special escalators for your shopping carts.” This is true of the Target store nearest our old home in Berkeley, California, but the shopping cart escalators will likely be absent from the Vermont Target, which, at 60,000 square feet, is considered a “small” Target.)

A Target opening elsewhere would hardly be newsworthy, but Vermont’s capitulation makes it the 50th state to welcome Target. Until now, Vermont’s been the lone holdout, but no longer.

To learn why I’m not doing a victory dance over Target, click here to read my latest “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent.