A Hutchmoot

A while ago, my sister stumbled upon the Rabbit Room, a community of artists, writers, musicians, and wise souls seeking to live out hard questions in the midst of God’s broken world. Last year, this community convened a Hutchmoot; a flesh-and-blood gathering of those who found solace, challenge, and restoration in the words that came to life in the Rabbit Room. Like Lucy, stumbling upon Narnia, my sister kept her eyes wide open to this new world-within-a-world and found that her heart also was opened. She returned to us as she was before, but somehow as a truer version of herself that we didn’t know was missing until it appeared.

And this year, she invited me into this world. I arrived a bit like Peter and Susan: I had heard of this land – a world within a world – but couldn’t quite believe it was true. So she took my hand and led me through the wardrobe alongside her, excited to introduce me to the world within.

I already cherished this community for welcoming and valuing my sister so much, and somehow anticipated entering Hutchmoot as an observer, trying to see this world through her eyes and learn what had so captivated her heart. But I didn’t expect to be inextricably pulled toward this community myself. In the process of keeping my eyes open to find what my sister so loved, I found my own heart breathing more deeply and exhaling into the peace of a weekend of Shalom. Like Peter and Susan, I was stunned and delighted to find that not only was I welcomed into this new world, but that for me too, this was where I belonged. These “dear little rabbits” drew me into their lives through unguarded visions of their own passions, thoughtful questions, and bold laughter sprinkled with tears.

This blossoming community reminded me of the beauty of bold authenticity, even after self-doubt or disappointment or weariness would seek to push me back inside myself.  I think some of the Rabbit Room writers captured this best through their music:

Building a wall so no one could bother me / living my life in isolation / Opening up to only those close to me /Nobody’s close to me, what have I done?

See I really want to be known / but I’m not quite as strong as the fear / that you won’t understand the fool that I am

and that’s how I ended up here.”

Jason Gray, How I Ended Up Here

As I cast out all these lines / so afraid that I will find / I am alone, all alone.

But could it be that the  many roads I took to get here / were just for me to hear that story / and for you to sing that song / and my many hopes / and my many fears / were meant to bring you here all along.”

Andrew Peterson, Many Roads

There is a refreshment, a lightening that comes from stepping out into community and finding that you aren’t alone. What a gift to go into a world where everyone showed up, grasped hands, took a deep breath, and moved forward together!  As a new friend of mine, Sam, put it,

We’re waiting for you and cannot be what we ought to be without you.”

And even as it was just beginning, Hutchmoot came to a close. The many roads we took to get here would lead us back to the worlds we came from. We climbed out of the wardrobe, returning with full hearts to embrace the beauty found in the midst of our own little postage stamps; be it the plains of the midwest, the heat of the south, or the hurry of the city.

And so, we left, carrying our strand of the doxology firmly in our hearts, and longing for heaven where the rich harmony will again be made sweet and complete.

Stories are gifts: Jingle Bells

As a small child, spending Christmas somewhere other than your own house can be very traumatic. How will Santa find you? Will you get presents if you’re at a different address? What if there is no snow where you are going? Can it really be Christmas without snow? It’s all very stressful.

In spite of this looming psychosis, my parents opted to risk it, and drive us to Cincinnati for Christmas when we were young.

We would arrive at my Grandfather’s house a few days before Christmas and marvel at the Christmas tree, already set up in the long living room, full of ornaments hand-made by aunts and cousins, each with their own story that my mother or grandfather would tirelessly recount. We would sit on the floor and watch as the miniature Lionel train made its way around the pile of presents that had already accumulated, anticipating our arrival.

You should know that my grandfather loves Christmas. He carefully purchases a truly overwhelming abundance of gifts, each thoughtfully chosen for the recipient, be it grandchild, daughter, or son-in-law. I don’t know when he would start preparing the house for Christmas, but when we arrived, everything would be all laid out. A huge wreath adorned the front door, appearing to block the entrance through the double front door but magically swinging apart just in time. A tiny Christmas tree stood on the table in the front hall, and when you peered out of the windows in the dining room, you could see the glowing white lights on the shrubs in the front yard.

At my grandfather’s house, my sister and I shared the first bedroom at the top of the stairs – it was my mother’s old bedroom, still housing her high school yearbooks and displaying faded photos of a frozen, beaming version of her younger self. My parents would share another room, while my mischievous-gift-giving aunt and her beloved grandmother would share the guest room; a full house for Christmas.

In my grandfather’s high-ceilinged house, with the Christmas tree in the corner, the train weaving in and out of the presents, and a long strand of jingle bells on the door, the Magic of Christmas seemed to come alive and dance around the house, moving through each meal, conversation, game. It is in this place that my first memory of Christmas continues to live.

It was Christmas eve, and my sister and I had just received our grandpa-tuck-in, and now lay motionless, in the mini-cocoons that had become our beds. As any child knows (or former child remembers), getting to sleep on Christmas eve is a truly monumental task. My sister and I were laying quite still, waiting for either sleep or Santa to find us when we heard it – very faint jingle bells. Could it be the bells on Santa’s sleigh?

Unsure of what we had just heard, we refused to move, even to breathe, eager to hear those bells again. And sure enough, there they were, louder and clearer and right outside our window! Unable to get out of our tightly wrapped bedding, we contented ourselves with the knowledge that believing is seeing. We had not imagined it; Santa was here!

The next morning, Santa indeed had come – he had found us, even at our grandfather’s house. Such is the Magic of Christmas.

Recently, we asked my grandfather about this mysterious ringing of the jingle bells, and, to my amazement, he had no memory of this. This man’s memory is a steel trap, so forgetting a carefully executed Christmas scheme involving shaking bells outside a very high second-story window seems most improbable.

Perhaps his strong belief in the Magic of Christmas caused him to deny a role in the ringing bells, so as to keep Christmas alive for me and my sister. Or perhaps, for those whose hearts and homes are open and willing to find the Magic in Christmas, discover that Christmas instead finds them, even when they aren’t looking for it. Even through a strand of jingle bells.

Stories are gifts: Gift Givers

I come from a family of gift givers. But before you think that this is going to be a gift-of-the-magi, heart-warming tale of truly meaningful gifts, I should let you know that this is not the case. My family are no ordinary gift-givers. They are twisted gift givers. And that requires some explanation.

I suppose I should start at the beginning.

The year is 1970-something. A family gathers around the Christmas tree in a standard mid-western suburb – two daughters, two parents, and a beloved grandmother (with a slightly neurotic dog watching on from the outskirts). The youngest granddaughter delightfully hands her grandmother a beautifully wrapped present, smiling with anticipation as she opens it. The grandmother peels back the wrapping paper, opens the box and finds a note. A note that reads “better luck next year.” Meanwhile, the girl is doubled over in fits of laughter. “It’s a better-luck-next-year-box!” she squeals as her eyes begin to water from the laughter. The rest of the family shakes their heads, but can’t help but join in the contagious laughter.

Fast forward a few years later to the late 1970s. The same granddaughter, a few years older, hands her grandmother yet another carefully wrapped package. This time, her eyes are already dancing with what she knows is inside. The grandmother opens the package to discover a head of cabbage, with a smiley face hand-drawn on the top. “It’s a Cabbage Patch Kid!” the granddaughter announces, barely catching her breath to spit out the words.

Zoom out and back down to Western New York. It’s now late 1960s and a small boy is sitting around his Christmas tree, trying to crowd out his three sisters as his parents eagerly watch him open his presents. He comes across a small package from “Uncle Jack” the family dentist. He opens it. It’s an electric toothbrush. “How thoughtful” he muses, and goes on to open his other toys. Several weeks later, at the dentist, he remembers the thoughtful gift, and offers his thanks to Uncle Jack. The doctor, however, is mystified. He gave no such gift. The light dawns on the young boy. His parents gave him the toothbrush, but claimed it was someone the dentist – what a bizarre way to give a gift!

This is my legacy. These are my people.

At Christmas each year, my sister and I find presents under our tree from figures like Michelle Obama, Steve Jobs, and Martha Stewart. There are hand-wrapped gifts from local friends and teachers – Mrs. Kinat, Jimmy C, Rich. These are all my father’s doing. Yet every year, without fail, as we go to open the present from our unknowing benefactor, my father remarks, with great surprise, “that was so nice of them to think of you!” Now I should tell you, since the dentist-toothbrush incident that set this whole tradition off, back when it was my grandfather who loved this game, the references have become more obscure. The gift from Michelle Obama could be a DC road map, or tickets to Wolf Trap, or perhaps an ornament of the White House. Names like “Rich”? Watch out. It could be a gardening item, from our neighborhood nursery worker. Or, it could be that “Rich” is the producer of an obscure Hollywood musical that dad found on DVD. You have to stay on your toes. We open the gift, and smile, and also offer our thanks to Martha Stewart, while my dad sits on the floor with a broad grin.

A few days after this present-opening, we will travel to the opposite end of the state to celebrate Christmas with my mom’s side of the family. My aunt is queen of the “giggle gift”. After my great-grandmother passed away, my aunt found a willing recipient for her gifts in my father. To be fair, I believe that the history of their gift-giving extends back nearly to their first meeting.

The way I’ve heard it told, it all started on a family vacation to Long Island. On that fateful beach, my father and my aunt were both reading The Parsifal Mosaic, a spy book by Robert Ludlam, author of the “Bourne” trilogy. Both of them took great pleasure in reading ahead of the other and trying to spoil cliff hangers and even the ending of the book.  While in Long Island, the first Farm Aid concert was taking place in Illinois. One evening, the evening news was on, showing coverage of the concert. For reasons that we may never know, the camera man zoomed in on a pile of trash littering the lawn and focused on an unopened bag of Stella D’Oro bread sticks. My father and my aunt, both with the same quirky sense of humor, were both tirelessly amused at the type of person that would choose to bring bread sticks to a live, outdoor concert. The following December, neatly wrapped under the tree, was a copy of the Parsifal Mosaic, given from my father to my aunt, feigning disbelief that she had already read the given gift. In a smaller package was a single bread stick, with a red ribbon tied around the middle; it had been made into an ornament, and hangs on our Christmas tree still. Thus began the extended tradition of the giggle gift.

The best “giggle gifts” are those that require months of planning, where the giver begins to laugh at the mere idea of the gift being opened. One year, my aunt found a small box that when turned on, shakes around while a dismembered voice yells “help! help! get me out of here!” The next year, my family filmed a video of various family members trapped in small spaces, while the box rattled off-screen, yelling its petitions to be released. That Christmas, my aunt opened a package with an unlabeled video tape in it. We then watched the shakily-made home video which could barely be heard over our laughter.

A few years later, my aunt and her own youngest daughter (who has inherited this twisted gift) had heard a song on the radio to the tune of “Do you hear what I hear?” titled, “Didn’t I get this last year?”. The song details a list of horrible presents that the recipient had already received in previous years. Out doing themselves, my aunt and cousin wrapped up each of these items (including an ugly tie, a plant in a mayonnaise jar and some “tiny BVDs”) and had my father open each subsequent gift as the song blared through my grandfather’s speakers. My dad, ever the willing participant, proceeded to act out each event as described in the song. My family was literally weeping. We have issues. Yet these are the memories of Christmas that have been passed down, and relived in my own family. I have vague memories of getting our first computer, and other wonderful gifts from my parents, but the images that stick in my head are the ones that involve innocent laughter. These moments of pure joy capture the spirit of Christmas in a way that regular gifts just seem to miss.

In spite of these rather unusual patterns of gift-giving, I think that in a strange way, they reflect the events of the first Christmas.

Every Christmas, we wait. We start counting down the days with child-like wonder, waiting for December 25th to finally arrive. We shake the packages, snoop around the house, and try to figure out what our gifts are going to be, even with misleading gift tags. Before the first Christmas, a nation had been waiting for generations; waiting for One who had been promised to deliver them from slavery and oppression, and turn them into a nation that was respected instead of defeated.

People were expecting a gift to come in nice wrapping, carefully packaged, with clear labels to let them know that this was what they were waiting for. Instead, they got a baby, born to a teenage mom from an obscure village; born next to cattle, who spent the first night of his life not in a carefully built, lovingly adorned crib, but in a feeding trough, surrounded by hay. The Gift was not what was anticipated. But, as our giggle gifts dimly reflect, sometimes what was not asked for, not anticipated, is the gift that brings us the most joy; that we remember for years to come; that we pass down through the generations.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”  Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”    Luke 2

Stories are gifts: Believing

[Note from KP: This post comes from my sister, a lover of all True stories.]

Seeing isn’t believing – believing is seeing.” – Judy the elf, “The Santa Clause”

As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing.”-  Luke 2:15, The Message

The other day at work, the issue came up among the moms hanging out at the Baker lunch table. I was mostly eavesdropping, but I heard what I expected to hear: a variety of responses and opinions that eventually opened up into people telling their own stories, of how they knew or when they found out.  I refer to “The Santa Question,” the state of one’s upbringing when it comes to the red-suited man as well as whether one will raise one’s own children to believe that Santa is Real.

I’ve been pondering this question for some time, with no real sure-fire answer. I know that for a while I was a hard-core believer, and then for a while I wasn’t sure. And then one night I asked my mom, “Who really buys the presents?” and she answered honestly and I cried and cried. And that even this year there will be a wrapped present under the tree with the words “to Laura, from Santa” on it, and that it will make me smile. Here’s what else:

I love stories. And at its heart, that’s what the Santa thing really is – a story, expanded and commercialized over time, but a story nonetheless, about a Greek bishop who heard of a poor man who had no dowry for his three daughters, who, being unamrried and unemployed, probably would have to turn to prostitution. To save the girls from ruin and their father from humiliation, Nicholas secretly threw three purses full of money into their window one night, enough for a dowry for each girl. (Thanks, Wikipedia. That was a new one for me.) Essentially, we’re talking here about a holiday tradition centering around a man who selflessly gave out of his own wealth to others who were in need. That’s a GREAT story! I kinda love it, and there are dozens and dozens of other examples around the world. The power of Story to illustrate noble actions and spur readers to the same is strong and potent.

For a lot of Christians, and Christian parents, the tension reflected in the quotes above (one cinematic, one Biblical) comes in when we are asked to believe (or tell our chidlren to believe) that this man, Santa Claus, is not only a historical figure, but one who is apparently immortal and has an impact on our lives to this very day, observing our behavior and responding accordingly.  Does this sound like anyone else you know?? (Hint: The Sunday School answer of “Jesus” will be appropriate here.) It’s difficult to sell this well-intentioned-untruth to kids who are learning each week about another man who sounds very similar, and I think folks worry that kids won’t make the distinction, and that’s why some shy away from letting Santa in to their Christmas traditions.

And yet – think about a child’s face on Christmas morning, about the great Santa stories that you know and love and about the gift of a good imagination. How does one dismiss that tradition and wonder? ( Think The Polar Express here, or “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” or “Miracle on 34th Street.”) I wish I had a great and profound answer to this conundrum, but all I can say is that I figured it out eventually, and I think that  my powers of belief and imagination are still intact and hopefully none the worse for wear thanks in part to awesome parents and to things like this:

Dear editor: I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say that there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, ‘If you see it in the Sun, it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?”

That’s the opening to what is commonly known as “Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus,” a letter and response from little Virginia O’Hanlon to the editor of the New York Sun in 1897, and what follows is a beautiful piece of writing by Francis Church that serves to both express the larger truth of Christmas and keep an eight-year-old’s power of faith alive (although I wouldn’t complain if a healthy dose of the Gospel were injected into Church’s answer). My favorite part comes at the end, when Church exclaims:

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”

Goosebumps.

I don’t know if Virginia understood this or found it helpful, but I have found it helpful in my ponderings about Santa. It expresses the need for belief in something larger and greater than ourselves, one that honors and respects childhood and beauty and what’s good in the world, and I can get behind that. And, it urges the child to believe in something.

Good ol’ Webster’s hands us a standard definition of the word believe: “to accept something as true, genuine, or real.” However, there’s a second definition listed that I think can be of more use to us when it comes to the Santa discussion—believing is “to have a firm conviction as to the goodness, efficacy, or ability of something.” I can heartily agree with this and say that, on most days, when he’s not crowded out by commercialism, I believe in St. Nicholas, as well as the power of stories to have a positive impact on a child’s life. Teaching how to Believe is not a bad thing. I think kids these days are smart enough, with a little prodding, to apply belief and Belief in their proper places and be none the worse for wear.

Lest we forget, there is room for child-like wonder in the TRUE story of Christmas, and I think that’s the key to bridging these two stories. I think that we can take the childlike faith that a wide-eyed five-year-old can have in a man with a beard and a red suit and an aura of mystery, and apply that, as adults, to the baby Jesus, the Living Christ Himself, come down to earth in the form of a baby.

Wow.

I was at the mall the other day and saw the standard line of dressed-up kiddies waiting for their turn to sit on Santa’s lap. Some were impatient and fretful, but some quietly stood there and sucked their thumbs, and I bet those are the ones who got up real close and kinda hid their faces in the crook of mom’s knee when faced with this man who, to them and for now, partly represents Christmas. It’s a big wonder that they (and we) are faced with, and we are right to be in awe of it and to believe.

Stories are gifts: Sing a Christmas Carol

As it is the eve of December, I’m sure that most of you are eagerly tuning your dials to your favorite Christmas stations, and dusting off your favorite N*Sync or Mariah Carey album. Because after all, it’s not really Christmas without music.

In addition to providing the soundtrack for most of my Christmas memories, music was the central event for many of my Christmas routines.

Beginning in 5th grade, my sister and I (along with most of our friends) were in an audition-only children’s choir. And Christmas was a big deal for us. We sang in shopping malls, retirement communities, and churches, with concerts throughout the Christmas season. Our director was fantastic. She made music fun and challenged us to sing pieces typically reserved for adult ensembles.

I can still picture our practice room with its arched stage and rows of chairs. I remember our practice folders, packed with music and the anticipation of climbing the narrow staircase up to rehearsals. Even the carpools to practice were a joy – filled with laughter and, of course, music, as we ran through our pieces to get ready for that evening’s rehearsal. In that room, we learned descants and harmonies to traditional carols, broke into sections and memories our pieces of Carol of the Bells, and slowly, tediously, over the course of dozens of rehearsals and more than two years, learned all of the Ceremony of Carols, by Benjamin Britten. The words are with me still:

This little babe / so few days old / has come to rifle Satan’s fold.

All hell doth at / his presence quake / though he himself for cold do shake.

For in this weak / unarmed wise / the gates of hell he will surprise.”

In that room, music took on life – the songs became seared into my conscious and were no longer mere melodies, but living parts of my very self.

Even as I outgrew children’s choir, music remained with me. My public high school choir was surprisingly big on Christmas. Beginning in October, we would start rehearsal for the Christmas concert. Although pieces varied each year, the A Capella choir processed to a truly breathtaking arrangement of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” and performed  “O Holy Night,” featuring soloists from the senior class. As we would rehearse “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” in the choir room, a stillness would come over the mass of high school students as we would sing those words. The perfect blend of harmonies would rise, and as the notes hung in the air, all would be still, if only for a second.

Years and years ago, a former choir teacher had a tree built for the choir – narrowing rows of semi-circles, reaching to the ceiling of our auditorium. During our Christmas concert, after each choir had sung their individual selections, the women’s chorus would fill the tree – row by row – each holding a small candle while the A Capella choir filled in on either side. The lights on the stage would dim and the audience would rise to their feet for the Hallelujah Chorus. What followed was a beautiful hymn-sing, let by the combined choirs, of nearly all the great Christmas hymns – Silent Night, O Come all ye Faithful, Away in a Manger, The First Noel – we sung them all, joined by the audience in magnificent, reverberating harmony.

Although it seems like my time of formally singing has (temporarily) come to a close, the music remains with me. Last year, to close the 11 o’clock Christmas eve service, the congregation joined in singing “Silent Night”. As the opening chords played, I looked around at the faces next to me and smiled. Without opening our hymnals, beautiful harmonies rose up – the same notes that we learned as children were still with us, rising to welcome the dawn of another Christmas morning.

It’s not really Christmas without music. On the night of the first Christmas, angels from Heaven announced the birth of the Christ and the sky was filled with a heavenly choir, praising God and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to men.”

As this Advent season begins, I hope that your life is filled with music, and that with each note, you remember what this season is all about.

Stories are gifts: We should do that once a week

[Note from KP: I have asked my sister – who holds most of the memories in our family – to contribute some of her stories during this holiday season.]

As the English-major sister here, I feel a little bit of pressure to be both profound and succinct in this guest post – so, let me kick things off with a silly quote from an extremely verbose writer (Aaron Sorkin), about a conversation on turkey-cooking methods: “That was excellent! We should do that once a week.”

That line is from an episode of “The West Wing,” and it is delivered by President Bartlet, referring to the Butterball Hotline, a 24-hour 800 number where the phones are staffed by experts. In turkey cooking. Last Thanksgiving, my cousins and I sat on the couch and watched that clip, and laughed our faces off, then ate a delicious meal. Really, what else could you ask for?

I have long held that my favorite holiday is not my birthday, that special day that everyone gets just to themselves, or Christmas, with its pageantry and traditions. My favorite holiday is Thanksgiving, no contest. It’s just so cozy. Christmas involves lots of  presents to buy, holiday parties to attend, church services to get to on time, neighbors to bake for, traffic to fight…but Thanksgiving, by its nature, is a time for rest and reflection. It is a national invitation to unhurried fellowship with loved ones. I have multiple fond memories of driving to Chicago to have Thanksgiving with my mom’s sister when we were young, and in later years swapping off with my dad’s sister and her family for Thanksgiving hosting privileges in Ohio. When you wake up in the morning and (after the turkey is in the oven) the most pressing thing on your mind for at least the next two hours is the Macy’s parade and a crossword puzzle, how can you not be thankful? You can even put Matt and Meredith on mute for a while and take a mid-morning nap. The house is filled with the wonderful, oh-so-tempting aroma of cooking turkey – and really, even if you’re a vegetarian, how could that not smell good? There are yummy appetizers to snack on, and no one is in a hurry, especially once the bird comes out of the oven and everyone just gets to stare at it, resting on the counter in all its golden glory.

I belong to the school of “turkey-pickers,” those who linger by the bird as it’s being carved and pick up those first juicy bits of meat or that one piece of stuffing poking out at just the right angle for you to grab it with your fingertips. Despite all the wonderful stuff filling the table in the next room, those first few bits are always what taste the best to me.

I am grateful that Thanksgiving doesn’t lend itself to commercialism as much as Christmas; at least for a few hours on a Thursday night, it feels like most people in America are acting unselfishly. Some are spending their evening sharing a meal with the homeless, distributing food parcels, opening their homes to those whose families are far away. I am usually eating unhurriedly, enjoying the meal, the conversation, anticipating coffee and dessert, thinking about how insanely blessed I am to be sitting at a table with people I love and who love me, in a warm house with plenty of food and a place to sleep that night. It’s a NATIONAL day of THANKSGIVING. Ya can’t beat that. Plus, when you’re stuffed with turkey and pie, the dishes are done, and everyone has argued about the correct pronunciation of “tryptophan,” there’s all those great movies on TV, and you can again be thankful for laughter and satisfaction.

I heartily agree with President Bartlet, “That was excellent! We should do that once a week.”

Stories are gifts: Family Friend Thanksgiving

In college, my group of friends was known as “the family”. The name was affectionately coined by my next-door-neighbor during my freshman year, who, living just a few cinder-blocks away from me and my delightfully loud roommate(s), knew that this “family” operated much like any other family you may be familiar with. We had unwavering routines, invented new ways of greeting each other, took an inordinately large amount of photographs at our gatherings, and were (usually) unafraid to confront, confess, or confide, trusting in something close to unconditional love to see us through. We made sacrifices of time, money, and sleep to support each other. We knew each other’s quirks, histories, and shames and generally tried to love each other well in spite of them.

By senior year, we had vacationed together (learning that which can only be discovered in a 12 hour car ride with family), celebrated birthdays, engagements, awards, and achievements, and thoroughly lived into the day-to-day realities of living side-by-side for nearly four years. And yet our journey was lacking in one key element that makes a family – the celebration of holidays. In the beautiful non-reality of college, every major holiday coincided wonderfully with a “break”, providing ample time to travel home for Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas; but this also meant that these were not celebrated by my other “family”.

So I think it was probably my idea.

A full Thanksgiving dinner (to be shared by 14 hungry college students) cooked by a bunch of un-practiced 20somethings, with only 2 kitchens between them. What could go wrong?

It was determined that we would need two turkeys. So there went the ovens. The boys (the name primarily bestowed upon the 4-person apartment occupied by 4 of my favorite gentlemen) were tasked with cooking one turkey, while I boldly volunteered to cook the other. Mashed potatoes, green beans, stuffing, gravy, cinnamon apple sauce, cornbread, pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce were all tasked to other volunteers, based on their cooking skills and proximity to aforementioned kitchens.

As the day approached, the reality of what I had proposed began to hit me. Think back to Thanksgiving at your own house. What do you picture? Your mother in the kitchen cooking all day while the rest of the family wanders around the house, semi-oblivious to the fact that the delicious smells emanating from the kitchen required someone’s hard work? Yes. Me too. Only now I would be the one standing in the kitchen all day trying to coerce delicious smells to waft into my neighbors’ apartment.

In spite of looming fears, I did what I always do when I’m overwhelmed. I planned.

I made lists. I set time-tables. I checked in with all the food-bringers to ensure that everyone else was as on-the-ball as I was (it was senior year – my friends loved me enough to overlook this quirk of mine and reassuringly lied to me and told me they were fully prepared). I made more lists.

The day of our first family holiday arrived. I had remembered to thaw out the bird, and took that as a sign that things were absolutely going to go fine.

Flaw in Plan #1. I am in college. I have class most of the day. My oven lacks a timer. Visions of standing in the kitchen in a cute apron from Anthropologie while “getting in the holiday spirit” quickly leave me.

Flaw in Plan #2. I do not own a roasting pan. I do, however, own a 9×13 Pyrex that is smaller than the bird I volunteered to cook.

Undeterred, (and several phone calls to my mother later) I managed to cram the bird into the Pyrex and make it up the hill to class by 10am, with my roommates assuring me that they would keep an eye on the oven to make sure that the turkey didn’t catch fire/fall out of the Pyrex/become bone-dry.

To be honest, the rest of the day is a blur. Like most family get-togethers, the specifics melt away and form a hazy blend of emotions and snapshots.

I remember nearly collapsing with laughter on the floor of the boys’ kitchen, but I have no idea why – I think it had something to do with the meticulous way that Dave insisted on mashing the potatoes. I remember “relocating” two large tables and several chairs from the basement of our apartment building so as to fit all of our friends at one huge table. I remember that Steve carved the turkey and that Rachel tried to convince everyone that cranberries from a processed log were better than any other kind. And I remember feeling grateful. Grateful in part because that’s what the day is about – a time to pause in the chaos of life and actually count your blessings – but also grateful for the people that I was surrounded by and the four years of shared history we had built together.

But more than that, grateful, knowing that this would be just the beginning. C.S. Lewis wrote, at the end of the Chronicles of Narnia, The Last Battle, “But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” This is what that moment felt like – knowing that even the joy of that day and the friendship of those four years was merely the cover and title page of the Story that goes on forever.