It’s a wonderful, wonderful life.
I’m grateful for supportive friends. Friends are the family we choose for ourselves. God plopped the perfect friends in my lap—He did it years ago.
I started into college with good friends. Friends I’d had for years. My sisters and my fellow Anytown Academy students. A lot of my fellow high school graduates and I are no longer in touch. But I have memories of them—memories of things they said or did that made a lasting positive impression.
Then there’s my four adopted sisters. I do not exaggerate when I say I would not have survived college without them. Or life, for that matter.
And I made friends in college. Not as many as they said I would, but I tend to aim for quality of quantity. I can safely say I’ve made friendships that will last forever. Friendships that generate joy and sustaining love. Again, without these friendships, I would not have survived. You think I’m hyperbolizing. I’m not.
I have been astoundingly blessed.
So now I’m 22.
No sentimental mish-mosh today. I have no deep, brooding feelings to share tonight. There’s too much yellow in my soul for that.
What a perfect day.
After a semester…a year, really, of meeting obstacle after obstacle every day–obstacles interspersed with either wild joy or frantic exasperation–it was a relief to have a Perfect Day.
Perfect weather. Perfect circumstances. Perfect everything. For the first time in a very, very long time, I had a day where nothing–absolutely nothing–went wrong.
Tomorrow I know that many things may come crashing down around my ears. I know that things will happen that make me frustrated, that mess up my plans for the day, that throw off my groove (to borrow a phrase).
But let tomorrow worry about itself. Today was glorious. And I thank God for it.
Some stories never get old. Even after you’ve heard them every year for 21 years.
Even 2,000 year old stories. Even improbable ones.
Especially the improbable ones.
Like the Creator of the Universe deciding to be one of His own creations. Being tempted, but still flawless. Being omnipotent, but still getting tired and needing sleep and food.
Letting His enemies humiliate Him. Call Him names. Letting them kill Him when He knew a snap of His fingers would bring His Father’s heavenly army down to destroy them all.
But not doing so. But giving Himself up to the most humiliating death possible.
And forgiving those who killed him. Myself included.
Then, three days later, turning death on its head and coming out of the grave, unconquered, greater than death and sin. The true King. The only Savior.
You know, that story.
No. It never gets old.
The stockings are empty. The tree looks a little more barren now, but no less cheerful. All the surprises have been discovered, joy has been shared, food has been eaten, hugs have been given, and all are tired.
I know I am. It’s been a joyous Christmas. A peaceful Christmas.
That’s the way it should be. After all, we’re celebrating the arrival of a good and gracious King. We’ll have to wait a little longer for His eternal reign of peace to begin. But it will come. It will come when it’s supposed to.
In the meantime, here’s to a silent night. Here’s to all being calm and bright. For we only get each December the 25th once. We only get each day once. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel has come. He’s come to give us the greatest gift—the gift of eternal life and unending days.
Merry Christmas to you all.
With all my love,
Two days on the road, and the Troupe was getting closer and closer to the foot of the Mountains. The long shadow of those craggy hills stretched over them as they marched through the forest. Though they had begun their journey rather jollily, talking and laughing amongst themselves, now they were quiet. All that could be heard was the sound of their feet sliding through the fallen leaves.
Zon was at the head of the line, Ameryn close behind. Enilor loped along beside Narina, taking two hops to every one of the Sprite girl’s long strides. The others followed in the single file, Zon’s brother and the giant Loui bringing up the rear, walking backwards, covering their tracks.
The sun set behind the Mountains, making them look even darker and more sinister, a feat Ameryn had hardly imagined possible. Zon put up his hand, and they came to a halt, silently setting up camp in the shadow of silence that loomed over them. Enilor quickly busied herself with making a fire, but its small red light seemed too weak to illuminate the gathering dark.
They sat in silence around the fire, eating salted meat and dried fruit and hardly daring to look at each other. Ameryn noticed that Narina would not touch her rations. She sat with her knees up under her chin, staring into the shadows with her back to the fire.
Suddenly, Zon’s voice broke the silence.
“We should rehearse,” he said.
There was a pause.
“D’you think it’s safe, Zon?” asked Enilor. It was not much of a question; her paws were already hovering over the clasps on her fiddlebox.
“Listen,” he replied. “It’s utterly silent. Nothing lives at the foot of these hills. Nothing dares.”
“They fear what’s in the Moutains,” Loui mumbled.
“I say the greater evil lies beyond them,” Zon answered. “No evil could be greater than the evil that holds sway over Nanduvar. And unless we rehearse,” he said, his eyes sparkling, “we won’t beat him.”
“Not a chance,” said Enilor with a wicked little smile, her fiddle already tucked under her chin.”
There was a rattle and a clatter of wood on wood, with some noncommittal low booming noises as the troupe pulled out drums and tambourines and pipes and who knows what other instruments from their bags and their tents. In seconds, every musician was ready, each poised with their fingers to their instruments and their eyes watching Zon. With a quick inhale and a flick of his wrist, they began.
Ameryn had never heard anything like it. The music was wild, rhythmic—as untamable as those that played it. Enilor skipped around the fire, sawing away on a song that sounded like every lark was singing at once. Loui’s drums made the earth throb, and the taurlin twins whistled out lively harmony on their panpipes. Zon strummed at his lute, his sister plucked a harp, his brother took to the bells and other percussive things Ameryn had never seen before. Narina closed her eyes to the dark and spun around the fire in the otterling’s tracks, her light palm beating the tambourine as she danced to rival the flicker of the flames.
Ameryn sat with her knees held to her chest, her eyes wide in awe. She had never seen anyone so happy as these vagabonds, each of them lost in the world of their own, but somehow producing the most joyous sound she had ever heard in her life.
Suddenly she found herself pulled to her feet. Zon had grabbed ahold of her hands, and was grinning at her.
“Do you dance?”
“Er—ah—well,” Ameryn stuttered, her face feeling very warm, “court dances, yes, but, uh, nothing that would go with this sort of—music.”
“Try,” Enilor yelled over the din. “T’ain’t too hard—just skip, girlie!” The rest cheered encouragingly.
“Come on,” said Zon, “see what you can do.”
He pulled her with him, leaping in time to the music. Ameryn fumbled along behind, gasping for air, and laughing. Laughing at herself, laughing at him, laughing with all of them as they cheered her on. She didn’t get the hang of it until Zon launched her into a spin that sent her flying a few feet. She landed, looked down at her dusty, red feet, and realized she hadn’t fallen.
“This isn’t—half—bad!” she gasped. She was not used to laughing.
“Told you so!” Zon yelled. Narina caught Ameryn’s hands and spun with her, then passed her to Claritas, then to one then the other of Zon’s siblings, and at last again to the man himself, who took her around twice, three times again. The song ended, and they all collapsed into laughter and applause.
“There!” Zon said, “That’ll put the darkness to shame!”
They laughed and cheered some more, and played a song or two, some soft, some loud, some joyful, some heart-wrenching. At last, the instruments were put away, and every musician crawled into the comfort of tent and blanket. Ameryn drifted off to sleep in Claritas’ tent, her head throbbing with the wildness of the music and the newfound gift of laughter.
Now for an update.
I promise, I’ll be back to poems and fiction and funny little essays tomorrow. But since I asked my lovely readers to pray for me, I figured I’d better follow up with the end result of their prayers.
Apparently God wants me in a musical, because I’m in one. This semester I will be taking the role of Meg March from the Broadway musical adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. I’m so excited I can’t see straight.
There’s a funny story behind this role. Perhaps it’s only funny to me, but I’ll share it anyways. From my first semester onward, I have tried out for campus plays. Shakespeare productions, musicals, new plays, old plays, graduate projects—you name it, if there were tryouts, I was there. I’ve been in a play almost every semester of my college experience. I’ve been the ghost of an aborted baby, a big sister, a Breve-Bunny-buyer, Death, and a unicorn. Call me flexible.
The dream, though, was to be in a Shakespeare production. Did this happen? Nope. Why? Too few parts for the ladies, and the female roles always went to someone else.
My rant for the last three years of my life has been, “Man, they really ought to do something with a mostly female cast for once, just to give the girls on this campus a chance to be in something. They should do Little Women. That would fit the bill.”
So someone is directing Little Women.
And I’m in it.
Being in this production is an answer to my private prayers. I love acting, I’ve always wanted to be in a musical—but I never thought I’d get a chance to do it in college, and goodness knows all of my chances for being in one after college would be nonexistent. I had a desire in my heart that I couldn’t set on a shelf and forget about, and God chose to fulfill that desire instead of removing it. He does that kind of thing very often in my life. I am grateful beyond words.
As thrilled as I am (and believe me, I’m thrilled—I’ve walked up to total strangers and told them I made it into the production), I’m wondering if this will turn into a classic case of “Be careful what you wish for.” Not only must I sing and act, I must dance while singing and acting. I can’t even sing and walk up the stairs at the same time. Meg is a romantic role, which, um, I’m not used to—in plays, I’m always the unlovable villain or perpetually single unicorn. This role will stretch me, if not even throw me into a blender and pour me out an entirely new creation. It will be an exhausting, stretching, grueling, overwhelming experience.
I cannot wait to get started.
Creator of all,
Both great things and small,
Your words brought me life
When death was my name—
In this world made of changes,
You’re always the same.
I have been hopeless;
My throat has been voiceless,
But now my poor tongue
Has a better employ—
For You are within me
The triumph of joy.
I’ll be a poet,
For You are a poet,
And I am Your poem,
Give me a reason,
I’ll sing for a season—
For all that I am
Is a channel for You,
And all of your goodness
Comes barreling through.
Your words are the Light
That gave me my sight.
My tongue and my pen
Are Yours to command,
Reflecting the words
That have poured from Your hand.
I’ll be a poet,
For You are a poet,
And I am Your poem,
We’re poems, we,
you, madam, and me.
I’m a limerick, I know,
and you’re an epic, you know,
We’re something new—
the mystery of me and you.
What could we be, we two,
Quite possibly, we two,
are rhymes no one
has heard before:
you and me, and
one thing more:
the love that’s born anew,
when shared between us two,
“I’ll dance and sing it through,”
and I reply, “Me too,
Let me begin by saying that I have nothing profound to offer tonight. Honestly, when do I ever have anything profound to say?
All I can say tonight is that I am blessed beyond measure with a wonderful life I do not deserve.
I say this knowing that many things may go wrong this year. I say this knowing the physical difficulties that are probably in store for me. I say this knowing that within weeks I will be stressed, and frustrated, and tired, and irritable.
I say this because in a week or two, I will forget that I am blessed beyond measure.
I have a God who loves me enough to have surrendered His life for mine. I have a loving family. I have excellent friends. I have a wonderful church family. I have been pulled out of past circumstances that could have crippled me if I hadn’t had all of the above.
And in a week or two, I will be irritable and unpleasant because I will have forgotten all of the above.
As I said, nothing profound tonight. But perhaps, when I am faced with what seems to be unfaceable, I will look back on my own writings and remember that I am, in fact, loved. I am loved more than I deserve to be loved. And because of that love, I, in turn, must love those around me, and only in getting my eyes off of myself will I regain joy.
In my mind, I am putting this post in a bottle and tossing into the ever-churning ocean of my mind. I know that when the storm hits, I’ll be tempted to abandon ship, throw out my inhibitions and be as mean as I feel like being. But maybe, just maybe, if I can remember my call to love others, I will.
God will help me weather the storm I know is coming. He always has, and He always will, so long as I put my trust in Him.
In one of my first lecture classes that I took as a freshman, the professor told us something that has stuck with me, and hopefully will stick with me until the day I die.
He said to choose joy.
Funny phrase, isn’t it? I think we grow up thinking that joy is something that happens to us—something dependent on circumstances. A good day, for example, results in joy, whereas a bad day results in misery. In this equation, joy is an inevitable thing, like sorrow, or traffic jams, or getting a cold during the winter.
But that’s not the way joy works. Happiness works that way, maybe, but not joy. Joy, like love, is a choice. You can choose to face a situation with a rotten attitude, or you can choose not to. You have that option.
There have been many instances over the last two years of my life when deciding to choose joy has saved my sanity and the sanity of those around me. On the way back to America from Croatia this year, it would’ve been very easy (and justifiable) to despair and be a total sourpuss, considering that everything that could go wrong that day did. But these words echoed in my mind, and I knew that the only way to handle this situation would be to choose joy. Just choose it. Decide to stay positive or decide to stay miserable.
I chose joy. The result: a much better trip than it would’ve been otherwise. Yes, things kept going wrong. But I came off that last plane grinning. It was nothing short of a miracle.
The joy-choosing deteriorated a bit when I came to terms with the idea that my luggage might not be coming home. I got a bit snippy, then. But I’m human, after all. I’m Risabella, not Pollyanna. I allowed cynicism to set in, and I wasn’t happy, nor was anyone else within a ten-foot radius of me. Choosing joy clearly would’ve been the better option, but I didn’t, or couldn’t, I’m not sure which.
We’ll never be free from choices—but the choices we make can free us. Choosing joy frees you from being miserable and from making others miserable. Choosing joy reflects better on the God I serve, since He has set me free from all the things that held me back before.
To those far from home and those close at hand;
To friends of the present and friends of days gone by;
To the fearful and the fearless; to the overcomers and those yet untested;
To the hopeful and the hopeless; to the dreamers and the doers;
To the Peter Pans and Wendys; to the Gatsbys and Daisys;
To those who have given everything; to those who have been given much;
To the lovers; to the haters;
To Potterheads and Twihards; to geeks and hipsters;
To democrats and republicans; to idealists and realists;
To cat people and dog people; to bookworms and sports fans;
To the introverts and extroverts; to writers and readers;
To children and adults; to the unborn and the octogenarians;
To parents and to newlyweds; to singles and couples;
To the growing; to the grown,
And to every living thing,
I would like to wish a very merry Christmas. God bless us all, everyone.
I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
Christmas should be a happy time. In its purest state, it should be a day of giving, of singing songs, and of surrounding oneself with the people who matter the most. It is a day of wonder for children—and for adults willing to admit that they are still children on the inside.
There is a sense of safety in the notion of Christmas. While all the world is unraveling before our eyes, deep down I believe that we all feel that on Christmas Day the curse is lifted, and nothing bad can possibly happen. On Christmas there is a kind of joy and warmth that does not exist on any other day of the year. It is this joy and warmth that has made Christmas such an enduring holiday, still sacred in an age regards nothing as being holy.
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.
But the world is a dark place. Despite what we might like to think, the world is not getting any better. In fact, it is devolving into depraved chaos brought about by man’s own machinations. We may try to convince ourselves that we’re doing all right: that science is advancing, that we are becoming more open-minded, or any number of hopeful platitudes. But a coat of paint on rotten wood does nothing to expel the termites. Things we would have thought unthinkable years ago are now front-page news. A madman mowing down children. A coward sniping firefighting heroes. Try as we might, we must admit that the world is a dark place, and it is growing steadily darker.
What causes this darkness? Sin. Mankind’s sin. We can’t escape it. We’re born with it. You don’t have to teach a toddler to grab a toy from his neighbor or to throw a fit. Those things come naturally. Any good behavior is learned. And it only grows worse as we grow older.
The result of sin? Evil. Murder. Rape. Abuse. Theft. Arson. Destruction. Death. All of the things that poison atmosphere of the world and make it the kind of place where we’re afraid to allow our children to even play in their own backyards. Or now, even to go to school, where there used to be safety in numbers.
And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”
I realize I am not painting a hopeful picture. Our world would really be devoid of hope, if it were not for one powerful Truth. This Truth arrived on Earth in the form of a helpless child born to an insignificant woman in an insignificant town in a seemingly insignificant country. A Child who would grow into a Man who would die at the hands of a twisted government for the sake of twisted people like you and like I. He alone could take away the cancer that grows on our souls and leave us free—free to hope for a bright and unending future.
And one day—get this—one day, He will eliminate the evil from the earth once and for all. This tiny Baby whose birth we celebrate tomorrow will come again, only this time not as a child, but as the Prince of Peace and the King of Kings. Illness, despair, wickedness, fear, and doubt disappear forever. Forever and ever. Then, and only then, there will be peace on earth and good will to men.
If that’s not a happy, hopeful ending, I’m not sure what is.
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.”
Tomorrow will be a blessed day. We have all been given such a remarkable Gift. God gave us the gift of hope on that first Christmas so many years ago. May you accept that gift this Christmas. Of all the gifts you give or receive tomorrow, God’s gift to you is the most precious, priceless, and everlasting.
It’s been said that no man is a failure who has friends.
This semester has been interesting to say the least. And not just for me. For almost everyone I know. It’s been a time of transition, a time of change, and a time of healing. We have been living nonstop. And we’re still going.
But I have discovered at the end of this semester something I have always known, but have never seen thrown in such stark relief until now. In life, there are only two things worth having: God and those we love.
Our achievements burn up. Our wealth will be divided among those we leave behind. Our trophies will tarnish. Our bodies will rot. But God and the souls of men will last forever.
No wonder, then, that we are commanded first to love God with all our hearts, souls, and minds, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
I am grateful for friends. Not phony friends; not fair-weather friends who are happy with you so long as they get what they want from you. Real friends. My friends are the people who have taught me how to love. And they are the ones who stick around while I’m learning. True friends are hard to find, but finding them makes life wonderful.
It’s true, then, that it is not good for man to live alone.