Let me sum up

“Let me explain. No, is too long, let me sum up.”
~Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

Let me tell you, stupid, that we here are all of little faith only from carelessness, because we haven’t time! … The Lord God has given us so little time, only 24 hours in a day, so that one hasn’t even time to get enough sleep – much less to repent.”
~Fydor Dostoevsky (thank you, Laura Jean Truman!)

Gosh, I’ve been busy lately. All of my jobs have taken off at once, from writing to editing to nannying to bunny-sitting (don’t be jealous). I have three things to share with you, and only a half an hour before I have to get to work, so let’s get going.

I’m really excited to be up on Think Christian today, for the first time since they published Bake for them Two 2 1/2 years ago. They received some flack for posting it, and I really appreciated the thoughtfulness with which editor Josh Larsen and director Steven Koster engaged the discussion.  They’ve shifted their focus lately to the media (Josh has a really interesting-looking book out, Movies Are Prayers: How Films Voice Our Deepest Longings) and so when I found myself developing an obsession with Fixer Upper and spending my evenings crying with people as their dream homes were revealed, I emailed Josh to pitch an essay.

Even though this article is about a reality TV show, I get pretty personal in it, about my dreams, metaphorically and literally, and my hopes for heaven.

I dream about homes often. Apparently, this is common. Psychologists theorize that houses in dreams represent ourselves. For me, there is also a more tangible source for my dreams. Growing up we moved frequently, and as an adult I’ve moved often as well. Houses—and housemates—haunt my dreams, sometimes with nightmarish rehashing of conflicts, sometimes with glorious visions of beauty, space, and love. For me, those latter dreams represent my dreams being fulfilled, as scarcity is replaced with abundance.

Head over to Think Christian and check it out!

gloryhappening_approved-copyNext, a book recommendation. I finally got a hold of Kaitlin B. Curticle’s book Glory Happening, out as of last week through Paraclete Press. I had already listened to parts of it through Kaitlin’s story times on Twitter and Facebook, and the print version does not disappoint. Kaitlin tells stories about her everyday life, but looks deeper to find meaning and the presence of God in each moment. The stories are almost like paintings, with the writer-artist drawing our attention to the holiness in every detail. After each story Kaitlin crafts a poem-prayer, lifting her words to God and inviting the reader into that moment. To be honest, there was a part of me that had been thinking, “A peaceful little book will be nice, but what I really want to read is something profound.” It didn’t take me more than one chapter to realize that I’d found a book full of both peace and profundity. It’s out of the quiet paying attention, to the quiet or not so quiet of our everyday lives, that God speaks to us — and all things profound start there. Order Kaitlin’s book here!

And last, but not least, my friend Eliel Cruz had family in Puerto Rico when hurricane Maria hit last month. He didn’t hear from his father for several days, and I and many others watched anxiously until we saw his update that his dad had called. His father is now moving to the states and Eliel is doing a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for plane tickets for him, his wife, and her parents (Eliel’s step-grandparents). If you’re able to support him you can give here.

Thanks for reading! Okay, now to rush off to take care of a sick toddler. Poor little guy. Today will have lots of snuggling and hand sanitizer.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.

Love,
Jessica

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Sunrise, sunset

img_1738This is a difficult time of year for me. Tonight, sunset in Boston will be 5:33pm. Tomorrow, when daylight saving ends, it will be 4:32. The sun will set while I still have an hour and a half at work. By the end of December it will set while the children I nanny and I are making our way home from school. We won’t get back to a 5:30 sunset till the end of February. Almost four months. Four months of driving home in the dark. Four months of eating dinner with darkened windows. Darkness is descending, not just over me, not in certain places, but over the whole city, the whole country, and it feels huge and out of my control.

There are little things I can do, of course, and I do them diligently. Rituals, exercises, both of the body and the spirit. I light candles. I try to pause every evening when the sun sets, to mark the transition, to make it feel like something I am a part of rather than something that is happening to me. I stretch out on my yoga mat, meditate and pray, breathing in the presence of the Spirit. I try to make friends with the darkness. I learn to walk in it, and try to be open to its gifts and its lessons.

Barbara Brown Taylor wrote a book called Learning to Walk in the Dark. It is about times of depression or doubt, but she also undertakes a literal examination of darkness, of what it means to move about in it. She writes,

I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light.

I believe this is true. But it doesn’t make it easier to face dark nights, either those of the soul, or spirit, or the revolution of the sun (combined with coastlines and country-lines that force Boston into the wrong time zone). So I prepare myself, and I work hard to make sure I have the tools at hand I’ll need, my emotional and spiritual flashlights and night lights.

But I grieve, too. I weep today, watching this last 5:30 sunset from my window. And I want to hold space for others who weep. Seasonal Affective Disorder affects different people in different ways, but it is widespread. And if you are already dealing with depression it can be compounded by the season and the time change. If you are weeping today, whether because of the earth’s coming darkness or because of darkness in your heart, I see you. You are not alone. I’ll weep with you and honor your sorrow, and then I’ll light my candles for you with hope and trust. Hold on. You are not alone. We might have trouble seeing each other here, in the night, but there are many of us. Light a candle for me, too, so I can see you. We will make it through together.

Love,
Jessica

ubooknerd, you won the giveaway! Send me your address so I can get you Love Warrior and Hungry! tenthousandplacesblog@gmail.com.

***

Come follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and join in the conversation! (I’ll tell you a secret: I’m feistiest on Twitter!)

Those Who Wait

Twister*This is part of the synchroblog on waiting, to celebrate the release of Those Who Wait: Finding God in Disappointment, Doubt and Delay by Tanya Marlow – out now. See more here and link up to the synchroblog here.*

I had another bad migraine on Friday. I’d felt it coming on and off, the weird way they do for me, on my way to pick up the boys I nanny from school, but some caffeine seemed to stave it off. The eleven year old had homework, but his parents had given us an hour to stop at the park on the way home, and I was as excited as the kids were at the prospect of fresh air and fun on a gorgeous fall day. I grabbed my sidewalk chalk from the car and we drew for a while, then the boys did parkour on the playground equipment while I cheered them on. And then we played tickle monster, which of course was me. This required a lot of running.

It was probably the running around that made the migraine worse again. It got bad when we were back at their house, making the game of Twister I played with the seven year old while his brother did homework more challenging, especially since we play with heads and knees as well as feet and hands.

“Head on blue, Jessica!”

“Hahaha…owww…”

By the ride home my head was throbbing and waves of nausea were hitting me with every lurch of the car. I realized I’d left the chalk at the park, which was on the way home, so I pulled my car into the parking lot, grateful for the rest from the car movement. I got out of the car slowly, ever mindful of head rushes which lately have been migraine triggers for me, and walked back to the playground, where I saw that kids had made use of the chalk while I’d been gone. There were drawings in rainbow pastels all around the walkway that circled the playground, and I waited till one small girl was done with her picture before I gathered the chalk up. She spoke Arabic, I think, which I don’t except for hello and thank you, but we communicated in gestures, nodding and smiling.

The sun was setting, and the playground part of the park was at the bottom of a steep hill that leads up to one of the best views of Boston. My head hurt, but the fresh air felt good, and I decided to see if I could make it up partway at least, to see a little bit of the sunset. I used to be able to step out on either of my two porches for sunset views, but in my new house the views are more elusive.

It was hard going up the hill. I have a few chronic injuries that have been acting up lately, and the pain in my feet, and back, and shoulder has been making ordinary things more challenging. The hill was steep, but I took it slowly, heading toward a patch of light in the grass that I thought would mean a good view of the light’s source. I sat down there and leaned back on my hands, glad of the small elevation I’d attained. The sunset wasn’t spectacular, just a small patch of red and orange, but it was something at least. I didn’t feel the deep happiness or joy that sunsets often bring on, but I tried to be quietly appreciative, for the little bit of color, for the fresh air, for the break before I’d have to drive through a couple more miles of Boston traffic before I got home. I took deep breaths and took the sunset in as best I could.

There weren’t many people there, and when a man walked close by I became wary of sitting alone in the increasing dark. The sunset faded, and I stood up, carefully, checking for head rushes. I turned and looked up the hill, and realized that even though I was only about halfway up I’d already climbed the steepest part. It would be much easier to ascend the second half. Standing up had revealed that there were actually several more people around, including a group that was doing a photo shoot of a pregnant woman in a dramatic white dress.

I had only taken a few more steps when I turned around and saw the sunset was much broader and more multicolored than I’d been able to see from where I was seated. As I walked to the crest of the hill the light increased, and the full 360 degrees of sky became visible, glowing purple, red, orange, and blue in the west with a subtler reflection of those colors on the clouds in the east, with the silvery grey Boston skyline to the north. Many people were up there, as it turned out, snapping photos of each other and the sky. My isolation had been an illusion. I turned, slowly, taking it all in, still not fully happy or joyful, but glad for the chance to see a more impressive sunset, to breathe under a more spacious sky.

On the way home I discussed my health and finances with God. I’ve been discouraged lately at how expensive life is, and how much harder it is to work as much as I have to work with all the various health issues acting up. I offered God several suggestions for how to help with this: An large anonymous check in the mail, an unexpected job with a hefty salary, a cure for the foot problems, or back problems, or shoulder problems, or the migraines. I promised to do everything I could on my part if there was something on my part that God wanted me to do. Then, after I’d mentioned every other solution I could think of, I prayed for the one that God was giving me already: Give me the patience to keep doing the next thing, to put one foot in front of the other, and make one dollar at a time until the bills are paid. Give me the wisdom to keep going, to climb the hill just a little bit further, then rest, climb, then rest, till I get to a place where I can breathe under a more spacious sky.

***

Those who waitToday is the official launch of Tanya Marlow’s new book! Tanya is one of my personal heroes. I met her when we were on the launch team of Sarah Bessey’s book Out of Sorts. Tanya is a writer and activist who has myalgic encephelomyelitis, commonly (and deceptively) know as chronic fatigue syndrome. Because of some setbacks and some bad treatment by doctors, Tanya is bedridden for much of the time, leaving the house only once every two weeks or so. Despite this she writes, does advocacy work for ME education and treatment in the United Kingdom, and takes photos of the sky from her bed, seeing God in the small changes of her rarely-changing view.

Her new book is about waiting. In Those Who Wait, Tanya Marlow takes four characters from the Bible and tells their story with imagination and compassion. The question she asks of those characters, and of her readers, is: What is it like to wait for God? For Tanya herself this is not a theoretical question. Neither she nor her doctors knows whether she will recover from this severe stage of ME. She does not, however, write either from a place of bitterness or of false hope; rather she faces her own questions honestly and creates space for her readers to be honest about theirs.

Those Who Wait carries us inside the lives of Sarah, Isaiah, John the Baptist, and Jesus’ mother, Mary, imagining how each of them coped with the long periods of waiting in their lives. The reflection questions at the end of the chapter invite us to ponder what we may have in common with these ancient God-seekers, and how their stories may speak to ours.

Tanya’s writing is evocative and vivid, and her pacing is gentle and patient, embodying the years, decades, and centuries that pass before God’s purpose in the lives of these four people. The book is a quick read, but it can also be used as a longer daily devotional, reading a chapter every day and writing, pondering, or praying through the questions.

You can order Those Who Wait on AmazonUS or Amazon UK, and I hope you do! (The US site is showing the release date as November 1st, but that should be fixed soon.) You can read more about Tanya at her website.

***

Two other books I’m looking forward to reading:

gloryhappening_approved-copy

Glory Happening by Kaitlin B. Curticle, coming on November 7th. From her website:

Here’s what people are saying about Glory Happening:

“Kaitlin B. Curtice is a young, Native American Christian mystic who portrays the sacredness of the human condition in everyday language through her writing. Her use of poetic prayers and stories in Glory Happening inspires us to find the divine in every aspect of life, and gifts us with the opportunity to embrace and mirror the gracious reality of God and glory in our midst.”

–Fr. Richard Rohr, Founder, Center for Action and Contemplation, Author, THE NAKED NOW and FALLING UPWARD

“Kaitlin B. Curtice writes with a deep, sweet, reflectiveness about the odd places she encounters ‘glory,’ that is, Jesus. This first book by an exciting young Christian mystic is a must-read. Kaitlin helps us look for Jesus again, and helps us meet him in some surprising places. Strongly recommended!”

–David P. Gushee, Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics, Vice President, the American Academy of Religion, Author, KINGDOM ETHICS

 

Shalom SistasShalom Sistas by Osheta Moore.

SH ·l m’ / sis ta: A woman who loves people, follows the Prince of Peace, and never gives up her sass. Shalom, the Hebrew word often translated as “peace,” was a far cry from blogger and podcaster Osheta Moore’s crazy life. Like a lot of women, she loved God’s dream for a world that is whole, vibrant, and flourishing. But honestly: who’s got the time? So one night she whispered a dangerous prayer: God, show me the things that make for peace. In Shalom Sistas, Moore shares what she learned when she challenged herself to study peace in the Bible for forty days. Taking readers through the twelve points of the Shalom Sistas’ Manifesto, Moore experiments with practices of everyday peacemaking and invites readers to do the same. From dropping “love bombs” on a family vacation, to talking to the coach who called her son the n-word, to spreading shalom with a Swiffer, Moore offers bold steps for crossing lines between black and white, suburban and urban, rich and poor. What if a bunch of Jesus-following women catch a vision of a vibrant, whole, flourishing world? What happens when Shalom Sistas unite?

You can order Shalom Sistas here.

***

Speaking of books, ubooknerd won the giveaway last month! Ubooknerd, please email me your address so I can get you copies of Love Warrior and Hunger! tenthousandplacesblog@gmail.com

 

Double Giveaway!!!

LoveWarriorHunger**Congratulations to ubooknerd who won the giveaway!*** Good morning, friends! We’ve (almost) made it through another week. I tried to cut back on coffee this week and it was a real challenge to my fundamental belief that people are generally doing the best they can. Is it possible that people are generally just doing their best to get on my nerves, and it has only been the caffeine making them bearable this whole time?

Well, I’m drinking my morning half cup right now, so I love you all and believe in you. Just, when it wears off later in the day, would you please try not to cut me off in traffic or pick arguments about politics, or, like, touch me? I’d really appreciate it.

In all seriousness, though, I really do believe that by and large we’re all doing our best. I believe you are doing the best you can do, and, furthermore, that that’s exactly what you were meant to do, and exactly what the world needs you to do. All we need is for you to show up, in whatever state you’re in, caffeinated or under-caffeinated. Are you here? Great! Welcome! Let’s begin.

I reached 1000 followers on Twitter this week, and I wanted to do something to celebrate and say thank you. Glennon Doyle’s book, Love Warrior, came out in paperback this week, so I thought it would be fun to do a giveaway. If you haven’t read her amazing book, this is your chance! I’ve also really been wanting to read Roxane Gay’s memoir, Hunger, and it occurred to me that the two kind of go together. They’re both soul-baring memoirs of women struggling to understand who they are and where they fit in this world, while rooting out the toxins in our culture that have been slowly poisoning them since childhood. Glennon and Roxane have also both struggled with eating disorders, which is something I know a lot of us can relate to.

So! One lucky winner will receive both of these books in paperback. The simplest way to enter is to leave a comment either here or on this Facebook post. If you would like extra entries, you can do one or more of the following. (Don’t forget to tell me that you’ve done them! I won’t see it automatically.)

–> Share this post on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, your blog, your book group’s email list, or anywhere else you can think of. Each share counts as an entry.

–> If you haven’t already, “like” my writer’s page on Facebook. For an additional entry, invite one or more friends to like it, too!

–> If you haven’t already, follow me on Twitter.

So your comment might be something like, “Hi Jessica! I shared your post on Facebook and Twitter and liked your writer’s page on Facebook,” then I’ll make a note that you have four entries (one for commenting, two for sharing, and one for liking my page). I’ll pick a winner next Friday, Sept. 22nd, using a random number generator.

Thanks, everyone! I hope you have a good weekend. Don’t forget to breathe. Also, be kind to each other — you never know who is trying to cut back on coffee this week.

Love,
Jessica

***

Related posts:
You do not have to quit Facebook
How I finally learned to feed myself
Love your neighbor as yourself

That is not it, at all

Colander Eclipse

Colander pinhole camera, solar eclipse

From my bed in my new apartment I can see out the window onto our back porch. It’s a closed-in porch, so beyond my bedroom window I see the porch windows. Beyond that I see the large maple tree, one of the line of trees alongside the baseball field behind our house. When the huge and hugely bright stadium lights are lit for games I can see the one on the other side of the field through the maple leaves. I love the layered feeling this creates, me in my bed, the rectangular window, another window beyond that, with different dimensions and shapes but all lines, parallel and perpendicular; beyond that the rustling, moving tree branches that scoff at right angles, creating their own constantly shifting shapes and shadows, and beyond that the grand, ethereal lights of the stadium, bright almost as sunlight but whiter and more specific, as if alien space ships are hovering over my block, the moment of their appearance when humanity inhales sharply, in shock, before anyone attempts to react or respond.

My eyes take in the shapes and colors of this new place — smells and sounds, too, but the visual seems to bypass the part of my brain that would write letters to the editor if there were an appropriate publication: I dislike the meaty smell of the neighbors’ early breakfast, the pounding of the bass of the cars that drive slowly down the street. I have mixed feelings about the trumpet-filled Spanish music that the neighbors all play, and the volume at which they play it. The ice cream truck’s repetition of Turkey in the Straw is alternately nostalgic, cheerful, and utterly annoying; I have opinions about which truck’s version is better (the one that doesn’t jump an octave in the middle) and I love my landlady’s gentle voice as she speaks on the phone in her garden. But the visuals come through my eyes as direct feelings — I couldn’t say what I love, exactly, about the row of multicolored triple-deckers outside the front of the house, the other side from the field, but I feel a jolt of happiness when I look at them. I like to move to different seats inside, and observe from different angles the chipped woodwork, the dark frames of the doorways, my familiar books on their familiar bookshelf, but in a new house. I lie on the floor sometimes, to see how things look from there.

I suppose this is what painters feel, the connection to the visual that makes them want to recreate and interpret it. I’m a writer, myself, so I use words to describe and make sense of things, but I’m aware that the words change the things they’re describing, too. I didn’t feel the words “alien” or “ethereal” when I looked out at the stadium lights last night, but I needed to use them to describe the feeling, to move it, somehow, from my heart to yours, and now those words have altered it, have codified it, and the feeling will be different when I look out my window tonight. Sometimes it’s worth it, to change things by describing them, to feel less alone by knowing that a few people, at least, will read this and feel a similar feeling reading it: “Ethereal. Alien.” It’s necessary, really, or else I would be lost inside my own head, feeling things strongly and purely but alone. It’s satisfying to gather up those feelings in a ball of dough and knead them out into something which others can taste. But I lose something, too. Safety. Surety. Purity.

***

If there’s something to lose in writing, there’s even more to lose in speaking. I’m so much an introvert that I think it veers into the realm of social anxiety disorder. The thing is, I love people. I love them so much. I love when they talk to me and tell me their stories. I’m just so terrified that they’re going to look at me and it’s going to be my turn to speak and I’m going to have nothing to say. I’m afraid all that will be in the front of my brain is how their bangs frame their face, or how the color of their eyes is like an amber ring I once bought in Krakow and then lost in the airport bathroom, and I’ll know that’s not appropriate, probably, but I won’t be able to think of anything else. T.S. Eliot gets at a similar feeling, I think, in his poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Profrock:

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
Should say, “That is not what I meant at all.
That is not it, at all.”

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
“That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all.”

Communicating is just so hard. But I went to a gathering the other night, of people I’d only met once or twice before, and somehow, miraculously, I seemed to say things that made sense. I turned to the woman with eyes the color of an amber ring I once bought in Krakow and said, something, I’m not sure exactly what, but I meant, “Tell me your story,” and she did! And when it was my turn to speak I found I could tell a little of my story, too. And then it was like a dream, or an essay I could have written with the prompt: “Describe your perfect evening,” because the husband of the woman with the amber eyes stood up, and all fell silent, and he read a spoken word poem that brought tears to all our eyes. And the poem was about being separate from people and scared to come back into community, and about finding the courage to step out of the safe and holy woods and come back as if from the dead. And no one in the room said, “That is not what I meant, at all.” Because it was exactly what we all meant, I think. At least it was what I meant. And we moved on from dinner to cake and Swiss chocolates, and children ran in and out of the room, and knocked things over and were brushed off and forgiven. And the light in the house wasn’t ethereal or alien at all, readers. I have to describe it just right because I really want you to feel what I felt. It was the light of stories being told and being listened to. It was the light of poetry. It was the light in the window when you pull up to your family’s country house at night after a long drive back from the city. It was the light of home.

 

Prayers for lost things

I rescued two lost things last week. One was my responsibility, and one was not. One I’d lost myself (though it would’ve been easy to blame the five year old), and one someone else had lost. One was a coat, a green child’s coat, possibly a hand-me down, but it would have been expensive to replace. One was a dog. One was lost on a beautiful, warmish, sunny afternoon, and the other was lost the following day which was sunny but bitterly cold and windy.

The coat was the most upsetting, because it was my fault (though it would have been easy to blame the five year old). When I drove Louise to kindergarten that morning it had been cold and rainy, so she and her toddler brother, Manny, wore raincoats over their winter coats. Afterwards Manny and I went to the library and it wasn’t raining anymore so I took off his raincoat and left it in the car. Later, while Manny was napping and I was reading Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, the sun broke forth from the clouds and the temperatures soared into the fifties, and I gratefully made plans to take the kids to the playground after school. That last hour and a half, after I pick up Louise from school, can be hard. She is tired from following the rules and doing what she was told all day at school, and resents any more instructions from me. She wants to talk and play, and needs me to be very interactive and follow the rules of the games she makes up, and she gets frustrated if I don’t pay complete attention. Manny is getting tired despite his nap, and though he has spent most of the day ignoring me and pretending to cook elaborate meals with his toy pots and pans, his sister’s presence makes him suddenly need my constant attention and to be constantly in my arms. It can be fun, if I can rally my energy. But it’s infinitely better if we can spend that time outside. Both kids like people-watching, the fresh air and sunshine put their nanny in a much better mood, and there are other kids to play with so I am not needed as intensely as when the three of us are home alone.

It was warm, so I let Louise take off her outer raincoat, but it was not warm enough for her to take off her other coat, so the several times she asked to I said no. The kids had a great time, and I absorbed the fresh air and sunshine as I chased after them, and waited till the last possible minute to say that it was time to head home. As we walked back to the car I looked back and saw that Louise had taken off her coat. She saw me notice her, grinned, and said, “Is it okay?”

“All right,” I said. “Put it in the stroller,” thus teaching her the truth of the expression that it’s easier to get forgiven than permission. When we got to the car I strapped them into their seats, folded up the stroller, and put it into the trunk. A few minutes later we pulled into their garage and I said to Louise sternly,

“You need to either wear your coat or carry it, Louise. I have to get all the other coats, the diaper bag, and Manny.”

“Okay,” she said. “Where is it?”

“It’s back there with you.”

“No it isn’t.”

With a sinking heart I realized I’d never taken it out of the stroller. I opened the trunk and unfolded the stroller but it wasn’t there.

“It must be back at the playground,” I said. She started crying.

“It’s okay!” I said. “Let’s go inside and drop you and Manny off with your mom, and I’ll drive back in my own car and get the coat. It must’ve fallen out when I put the stroller in the trunk, so it should be right there waiting for me.”

“But what if someone took it?” she wailed.

“No one would take it,” I said, hoping this was true. “People are generally good and want to help each other.”

I dropped them off and hopped into my car, driving back towards the playground and praying the following strange prayer:

“Lord, please let the coat still be there. I don’t want to be responsible for losing it. Also, take care of the refugees. And if you can only answer one prayer, then take care of the refugees.”

God only knows what God thinks of prayers like that. Covering our bases, hedging our bets. Hoping for God’s favor and help to save face for ourselves and a few dollars for our employer, while knowing that others are shivering on the cold ground, hungry, homeless, wondering where God is and where the generally good people wanting to help each other are. Did God laugh at my second, guilty prayer? Did God listen carefully and file the prayers in order of importance? Did God guide the hand of the person who walked by Louise’s coat in the street and hung it carefully up on the fence for me to find, gratefully, moments later? Is God guiding the hearts of those who have it in their power to help the refugees?

The next day the temperature dropped sharply and the wind blew fiercely. The kids’ dad needed the car, so he drove Louise to school but I had to take Manny in the stroller to pick her up. The walk to school and back was cold and hard, with the wind seeming to always blow against us. I struggled on the way there, but the way back with Louise was harder — uphill and I had the additional job of keeping Louise’s spirits up while we fought against the wind. She was struggling, and trying not to cry.

“Remember what Dory says in Finding Nemo?” I asked. “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming. And then, just when they are too tired to go any further, a miracle happens and they find the warm gulf stream current which carries them safely to Nemo.” I’m pretty sure I had some of those details wrong, but Louise thought about it for a minute and then started repeating: “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.” We chanted it together, pausing each time the wind caught the cloth of the stroller like a sail (always in the other direction) and made walking momentarily impossible.

Suddenly a very small dog came towards us from a driveway, barking loudly. Louise screamed and I told her to move to the other side of me while I spoke gently to the dog.

“What’s wrong puppy? It’s okay, we’re friendly. What are you doing out here in the cold?”

The dog was shivering, and I realized that its barks weren’t coming from anger but from fear. I felt the calmness that comes over me when anxiety is replaced with knowing exactly what action to take. I don’t know how I knew. Was someone somewhere saying a prayer for lost things? Was someone praying for creatures who were cold and scared? Either way I knew for sure that the dog was stuck outside and needed help getting home. There were several houses there, but I turned toward the nearest one as the dog ran away back down the driveway. There was a set of steps going up to the front door, so I carefully parked the stroller at the bottom.

“No!” cried Louise. “I don’t want to go there! I want to go home!”

“When you see a creature that’s cold and scared, you have to help it. That’s the rule,” I answered, and, convinced either by compassion or canon, she followed me up the concrete stairs.

I rang the doorbell and we stood there shivering. I saw the blinds opened slightly and I waved and tried not to look like a salesman or an evangelist. A woman opened the door and asked us suspiciously,

“Yes? Can I help you?”

“There’s a small dog out here,” I said. “He seems scared.”

“Oh my God! Chico?” she asked, looking inside and realizing he wasn’t there with her. “How did he get out? Where did you see him?”

“He just ran back down there,” I said, pointing to the driveway.

She came out onto the porch, standing in the wind in bare feet, and called,

“Chico! Chico!”

The dog ran up to her instantly, and they hurried back into the warm house together, the woman saying a quick and still surprised, “Thank you!”

Louise, Manny, and I continued up the hill, against the wind. A few weeks ago we had made the same trip after a snowstorm, and as we’d walked I’d told Louise the story of Good King Wenceslas, and how he and his servant had gone out in the bitter cold to bring food and firewood to a poor man they saw from the castle window.

“It was so cold and windy,” I’d told her, “And the servant grew so tired he couldn’t go on. But King Wenceslas told him to walk in his footprints, and when the servant stepped right where the King had stepped, he found the footprints were warm! So then he was warm enough and encouraged enough to go on.” I’d sung the last verse of the song to her, trying unsuccessfully, as always, not to cry:

In his master’s steps he trod
Where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed
Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing.”

“We saved that dog!” I said, feeling as warm as if I were stepping in the Saint’s footprints. “And we’re almost home.”

“We’re almost home!” said Louise. “Just keep swimming.”

“Just keep swimming,” I said.

***

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