Category Archives: Thoughts About My Life

Tonight we make the kaldolmar

For those of you who don’t know what this means, I offer my post from last year on this Christmas tradition of ours.


It’s time for the O Antiphons!

So, I was going to write about how I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue to post my traditional O Antiphons for Advent, because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue to write on this blog and how I eventually decided to post them anyways because maybe I’m not ready to be done here…and then I discovered that I wrote the same thing last year.

Apparently, it’s not been an easy stretch in my life.

But, still, hope flickers, like a guttering candle, that I will continue to write here. Or, at least, today is not the day to decide otherwise.

And, thus, the O Antiphons.

I will steal from my previous post:

For those of you who don’t know, I have a rule for this blog (that I’m pretty sure I’ve successfully maintained) that I may only use text. No pictures, no YouTube embeds, nothing but text.

So, when it’s time to decorate for Christmas, I decorate using words. Specifically, the O Antiphon prayers that are the basis for the carol “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”.

I’ve already scheduled the appropriate posts, and they will appear around 5:00 pm (CST), which would be around the time of Vespers, when these prayers are offered. Each prayer goes with a particular day, and they lead up to Christmas Eve. Each is a reflection on a particular aspect of what Jesus came to do in his first advent and what He will do in His second advent.

I’m also including links to the various antiphons being chanted. Click on the Latin version, and you’ll be able to hear the chant. (Thanks to the Fish Eaters website, where I found these files.)

I won’t lie; this has been a pretty hard year: the latest in a series of hard years. You know, just like last year, and the year before that, and the year before that…. Honestly, I’m tired of even talking about it.

And so, the promise of a coming King who will set all things to right has become more precious this year. He is still good and strong and wise. How could I not follow Him?


On the occasion of my grandmother’s birthday

For those of you who don’t know, today is my Grandma Anderson’s birthday. She would have been 91 today, but she died last summer.

When you’re a child, you don’t really realize the awesomeness of the adults in your life. It’s only sometimes, when you can look back on your memories, that you begin to recognize what was always in front of you. It’s been that way with my grandmother. As I reflect on the commonplace memories of her, I begin to realize what an amazing person she was.

Honestly, I feel a bit like I missed out on interacting with my grandmother as an adult. We moved to Peoria when I was 25, and soon thereafter she moved to Pittsburgh to be closer to her daughter (my Aunt Laurie). Because of this, I rarely saw her. One of our visits back to Erie, we planned to travel down to Pittsburgh and see her. Instead, Crystal and I both were violently ill. I recovered enough to travel, but she shivered in the back of the van with a fever as we headed back to Peoria, bypassing Pittsburgh. We didn’t want my grandmother to catch whatever we had.

And so this last summer, we made plans to drive out to Erie and Pittsburgh, specifically to visit her.

We were just a couple weeks too late.

But, you know what….

My grandmother was my first inspiration to write. She was the first published author that I knew. I remember reading articles by her in various magazines. Even more so, she was the first independent author that I knew to self-publish her own work. She wrote a book called Through a Parsonage Window which was a memoir of her time being a pastor’s wife. For me, it was a window into my family’s history. My birth even figured in part of the book! Nowadays, with print-on-demand technology and the like, this is relatively easy. In her day, this was a significant undertaking.

Now, as I write and publish, I find a part of her in what I do.

My grandmother was also a resilient woman. She was married and had three daughters. She also buried her husband and two of her daughters. Yet I never heard her complain. Instead, I saw her constantly entrusting herself to your beloved Lord. And, even at the end of her life, while she may have been fading, she still had the firm faithfulness that she had at the beginning. She finished strong, and now she is with her Lord Whom she loved. Also, she is with her husband and two of her daughters, never to be separated again. Her faithfulness has been rewarded, a hundredfold.

That’s who I want to be. I want to have been the kind of man who loves his grandchildren liked she loved us. I want to be resilient, like she was. I want to finish strong, like she did.

When I grow up, I want to be like my grandmother.


Kaldolmar night

This post is dedicated to my Aunt Laurie, for reasons that I hope will become clear.

“Food should be prepared with butter and love.”— Swedish Proverb

Tonight was kaldolmar night. This is the night that Crystal and I make the main dish of our Christmas Eve dinner: Swedish cabbage rolls. It’s an event, with its own traditions and weirdnesses. And tonight, I felt like I needed to write about it.

***

Kaldolmar aren’t particularly easy to make. It’s rather a process. First, you need cabbages, which you boil to convince the leaves to release from their tight grip around the cabbage head. Or, honestly, at least to cooperate once you cut them free from the central stem of the cabbage. Those large leaves become the outer wrapping of the kaldolmar.

Then you need a mix of rice and meat. Apparently the traditional meat is pork, but we usually use beef. Well, this year we’re including the leftover meat from making korv, but you get the idea. The rice is cooked. The beef is cooked. Mix. Then add allspice and salt until it tastes right.

What you do then is wrap the rice and meat mixture in the cabbage leaves. They won’t stay shut by themselves, so you tie them shut with string. Then you fry them in butter. Then you put them in a baking pan, cover them in brown sugar and more butter, and bake them until they are hot. Then you serve them. If you’re compassionate, you’ll cut the string first. Otherwise, the person eating one is on his own.

My grandmother once commented that she liked kaldolmar so much that she didn’t know why we didn’t have them more than once a year. Then she made them again and remembered why. They are a lot of work.

***

I don’t remember a Christmas without kaldolmar.

No, really. I’m thirty-eight years old, and I cannot remember a single Christmas Eve that wasn’t our traditional Swedish dinner. Kaldolmar. Korv. Fruktsoppa. Lingonberry. Sill, if you must, though I’ll admit that this is an aspect of the tradition that has conveniently slipped out of our observance.

It’s entirely possible that my memory is faulty, but, in my mind, this is what Christmas Eve looks like. This is what Christmas Eve has always looked like. A church service, carols sung, a fancy meal by candlelight.

It wouldn’t be Christmas without these things.

***

My grandfather’s favorite carol was “O Come O Come Emmanuel”. I guess I got it from him, really. It’s part of what was handed down to me. So, every Christmas Eve, it would be one of the carols that we’d sing.

I remember the year that my grandfather blessed Christmas Eve dinner in Swedish. It was a simple prayer, which he translated for us. But there was an air of tradition about it that I still remember.

I remember when he played one of the wise men in the living Nativity scene that closed out the Journey to Bethlehem event at the church that he was pastoring.

I remember when he stepped down, because the cancer was going to make him too sick to be able to continue.

I remember the first Christmas season after he was gone, when singing “O Come O Come Emmanuel” somehow was an act of deep grieving and yet, somehow, of hope. The words of this verse suddenly meant so much more:

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

***

At first, my grandmother made Christmas Eve dinner. But life and age began to intervene, and my mother took over.

As I’ve said, making kaldolmar is hard. In particular, when you have to wrap the cabbage roll and tie it shut, it can be more than a single pair of hands can accomplish. And so, one Christmas season, my mother asked for my help. She needed my finger to hold the thread tight long enough for her to tie it.

Traditions have been forged from less.

And so, due to this accident of history, I became Mom’s official kaldolmar helper. Each year I would donate my finger to the cause, helping to tie the silly cabbage rolls shut. Then, one fateful year, I was promoted to the role of frying the kaldolmar.

***

My grandmother’s favorite carol was “O Little Town of Bethlehem”. I won’t lie and say that this has become one of my favorite carols, though I do love how it can be sung to the tune of “House of the Rising Sun”. But it was her carol. So, every Christmas Eve, it would be one of the carols that we’d sing.

I remember her cookies, with the chocolate chips and the nuts.

I remember her as the first writer that I knew, who actually wrote her own book and self-published it.

I remember her quiet perseverance after Grandpa died, and her ongoing cheer and flexibility and devotion to God, when others might have become embittered.

I remember wanting to visit her once more this last summer, and being just a couple weeks too late.

And so, when I sing these words, I remember her:

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel

***

Frying anything is actually fairly hazardous. Oil splashes are a big deal, especially if they get in your eyes. I’m pretty sure that’s where the tradition of safety goggles started. Wearing gloves on my feet…I don’t even remember. I’m pretty sure that it started before the tradition of drinking wine during kaldolmar night, but I can’t be positive.

The point is that there’s proper garb for kaldolmar night. It’s tradition. That means it’s required. And so, every year, I gear up by wearing safety goggles on my face and gloves on my feet. Because it wouldn’t be kaldolmar night without them. And then, together, Mom and I would make the kaldolmar.

***

I don’t remember my mother’s favorite carol. Part of me feels like I should remember, somehow, but none of them really stand out. But that’s okay, because I know that she believed them all.

I remember her insistence that tradition needed to be humanized, that tradition needed to serve the people and not the other way around.

I remember her love of celebration and fierce insistence that all be included.

I remember her being hit in the eye with a marshmallow one Christmas Eve night, as a food fight broke out.

I remember the phone ringing on a bright summer morning, and a burial in summer rain.

***

When Crystal and I moved our family out to Illinois, Christmas Eve changed again. We were far from family, and so we needed to pick up the traditions and carry them. In particular, Crystal embraced this dinner as her own. Especially after Mom died only a year after we moved, she felt the weight of obligation to ensure that this tradition be carried on. And so she set herself to learning how to make all the traditional food. It’s entirely possible that she knows more about the history and tradition of these foods than me. I have the oral tradition of my family, but she’s done all the research.

And now, we make the kaldolmar together.

Over the thirteen years that we’ve been making kaldolmar together, additional traditions have emerged. There is, of course, the consumption of alcoholic beverages. There are traditional pictures that we take. There’s traditional music that we play, like “The 12 Pains of Christmas”, “I am Santa Claus”, “Fruitcakes for Christmas”, and others. I still assist in wrapping the kaldolmar by giving Crystal the finger, and then I fry the kaldolmar in butter, all the while wearing the appropriate gear.

It’s part of how I know who I am.

***

A couple of months ago, my Aunt Laurie mailed me an old Christmas letter that my mother had written. When I say “old”, I mean “written in 1977, written a few months after I was born.” In this letter was a picture of me at one week old.

When I got this letter, I stared at this picture of myself, fascinated by who I once was.

It’s not been an easy year for me. For various reasons, I feel like I’ve struggled with deep questions of identity. Who am I? Why am I even here? What’s the shape of my life supposed to be?

Have I even accomplished anything at all? What’s it all been about?

And as I looked at this picture of myself, I could feel the entirety of my life so far, measured in how far I’ve come from that little baby, staring out at the camera. And, in some small way that I can’t totally enunciate, I could see that, yes, I’ve actually made forward progress. Somehow.

I feel like I’m rediscovering who I am. It’s a slow process, coming in bits and pieces. And, honestly, some of it is rediscovering the new me, if that makes sense. A new me, built out of the best of what the person I once was had to offer and the bits that I’m still becoming.

But a lot of it is returning to my past, to remember who I used to be, who God made me to be. There feels like much I’ve lost along the way, and maybe I’m supposed to pick up those things again, to find myself again in what I have received from those who came before me.

***

I had a crisis of faith earlier this year.

I can tell you exactly when it was. October 30, 2015. All day long, I was being pulled down by voices questioning the faith that I had received. And I was starting to slip. “What if I’ve been wrong all these years?” I found myself saying. “What if I’ve believed all these things about God and Jesus and the Bible in vain?” The crushing weight of despair pressed down on my shoulders. Have I been a fool? Have I sacrificed so much in vain?

We were going to a Halloween costume party at a friend’s house, though we knew very few of the people there. And so, as I often do, I looked at the books on display in the living room.

And look! A book by Ken Gentry, a professor of mine from college. And I thought, “Ken Gentry believes the same things as I do about God and Jesus and the Bible.” And then I saw a book by Thomas Watson, a Puritan from the 17th century. And I thought, “Thomas Watson believed the same things as I do about God and Jesus and the Bible.” And I had Greg Bahnsen’s voice echoing in my head, speaking about a belief in God rooted in the impossibility of the contrary.

That night, the past saved me. The hands of my forerunners in the faith reached out to me. They grabbed hold of me as I was sinking.

They held me upright.

***

It would be inappropriate to say that our Christmas Eve dinner is haunted. I didn’t write about the beloved dead to summon their spirits to overshadow our joy with grief.

No, rather, I wanted to commemorate some of those who have gone before me, who trod the pathway of faith even when it grew dark, who honored their God even in dire straits. And it’s in traditions like this that they still speak.

They remind me that I am part of something larger than myself, a lineage of faith handed down, one generation at a time.

They remind me that our Father is honest and trustworthy, and that His revelation is sure.

They remind me that what I have been handed is worth preserving and protecting.

They remind me of the core of the faith that was handed down to us: our Lord Jesus Christ, come into this world to save sinners like me.

They remind me that there’s further to go, but that, if I’m faithful to Jesus, He will be faithful in return.

They remind me that I haven’t wasted my life.

***

Tonight was kaldolmar night. This is the night that Crystal and I make the main dish of our Christmas Eve dinner: Swedish cabbage rolls. It’s an event, with its own traditions and weirdnesses. And tonight, I felt like I needed to write about it.


It’s time for the O Antiphons!

I’m not going to lie; I wasn’t originally going to do this. Yesterday I decided that it was time to let this blog go, to continue to slowly disappear from the Internet, to stop maintaining my presence here. Because it all seemed like too much work.

But today, I decided that maybe that was the wrong way of thinking. Maybe I should consider if I want to wrap up my blog…but a day that I’m feeling tired and draggy is probably not the right time to do it.

So, as an act of faith–in more than one way–I’m posting the O Antiphons.

For those of you who don’t know, I have a rule for this blog (that I’m pretty sure I’ve successfully maintained) that I may only use text. No pictures, no YouTube embeds, nothing but text.

So, when it’s time to decorate for Christmas, I decorate using words. Specifically, the O Antiphon prayers that are the basis for the carol “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”.

I’ve already scheduled the appropriate posts, and they will appear around 5:00 pm (CST), which would be around the time of Vespers, when these prayers are offered. Each prayer goes with a particular day, and they lead up to Christmas Eve. Each is a reflection on a particular aspect of what Jesus came to do in his first advent and what He will do in His second advent.

I’m also including links to the various antiphons being chanted. Click on the Latin version, and you’ll be able to hear the chant. (Thanks to the Fish Eaters website, where I found these files.)


In which I brag about my wife

It’s Thursday morning, and I’m up really early. I’ve been coordinating the arrival of a CPR instructor at my workplace, and I need to meet him to ensure that he sets up without a hitch. I’m rushing around, trying to get ready, when I discover that all my work shirts are gone. I panic. I don’t have time for this. And, wait a minute, didn’t I check the night before to make sure that I was ready? Did I make a mistake?

I really don’t want to be late.

But already there were little nagging indicators that something was up. Crystal was up early. She made an excuse, but there had been an alarm. And the shower head had been swapped out, and there was a card….

So, when I came rushing downstairs, wearing the least dirty shirt I could locate, in a full-on panic, maybe I should have expected Crystal to be waiting for me with breakfast, smiling and telling me that I wasn’t actually going into work today after all.

That’s how my birthday weekend started.

Over this weekend, Crystal and I played disc golf, played a couple of games, and hung out at our favorite restaurants. Crystal also threw me my planned birthday event, which was a cocktail party with friends, plus cooked a meal for our family birthday party.

Sometime at the cocktail party, she mentioned in passing to someone else that she tends to go overboard for my birthday.

It’s true. But it makes me feel so loved.

So, thank you, Crystal! Thank you for my birthday weekend.


The chain

Recently one of my children came to talk to Crystal and me. He (or she!) was struggling and wanted to talk. So we sat down with him while he unfolded his concerns. One of the biggies: how do you know that there’s a God?

In early March 2015, my family stood in front of the church, asking for prayer. In a couple of weeks, we would be going to the doctor in Chicago to discover if our children were going to go blind. Our church gathered around us and prayed for us. In the wake of that, many people spoke to us, offering comfort or council or just hugs. But a common theme in what was said: we saw your family caring for each other and carrying each other. And it’s true. I saw my children caring for each other. There were hugs and care and concern expressed by my children to each other. I saw that my children have learned how to love each other in suffering and sorrow. And so did my church.

Dad told my brother and me, “The two of you will stand next to me. That way, if I start to collapse, you can catch me.”

It was the day of my mother’s funeral.

Many of you know that I wrote a game called A Flower for Mara (freely available here), which is an exploration of grief and healing. You might not realize that I dedicated it to my father. I wrote:

To Leon Ben-Ezra, my father. You showed me that, truly, there is life after death. 

Look at me, being all clever with my words. I wasn’t talking about heaven or the coming resurrection primarily. I was talking about seeing hope in the here and now. I saw my father grieving. I saw him in such agony and sorrow as I’ve never seen him in before. And I know that, somewhere in his heart, parts of that pain remain. At my sister Gabrielle’s wedding, there was a vacant seat in the front with a white rose on it. A seat for Mom. Dad was performing the ceremony, and when he recessed, he stopped by the chair, picked up the rose and walked out with it. And those of us who understood were crying.

It’s not like it stops mattering. It’s not like any of us expect that it’s supposed to hurt any less.

And yet….

Even in the immediate aftermath, I saw hope in my father, which gave him strength. When I finally arrived from Peoria, exhausted from having driven all night and grief-stricken, he was the one who comforted me. In the midst of his grief, which he gave full expression to, he also cared for his children. He offered us words of comfort. He hugged us and cried with us. And he maintained before our eyes the truth that our God raises the dead.

If you own A Flower for Mara, you can see my father. That’s his hand in the picture on page 29. That’s his face on page 32.

And that’s him, on page 40, worshiping God in the cemetery.

My Grandma Anderson turned 90 this year. She’s back in Pennsylvania, and so I haven’t actually seen her in years. The last time we were there, Crystal and I both got violently ill, and I didn’t want to infect my grandmother.

The last time I saw my grandmother was in the hospital. I don’t remember why she was there; it doesn’t matter to the story. But she was sick and looked so frail.

My grandmother has not had an easy life. Over the course of her life, she has buried her husband and two of her three daughters, one of whom died as a teenager. How can you bear up under such a load?

But, while we were visiting Grandma, something happened which has lodged in my memory. someone arrived with my grandmother’s dinner, while were visiting her in the hospital. And she paused, folded her hands, and thanked God for her food.

If there’s anyone I know who has reason to be deeply bitter with God, it is my grandmother. And yet, she’s not. She still turned to Him in gratitude, trusting Him and quietly continuing to hold on to His goodness.

Why do I believe in God? And why should my child believe in God? I offered a few answers that day, but the one that felt the most powerful to me was sharing that story about Grandma Anderson. And, now that I have the time to assemble all my thoughts, this is what I would say.

We are all part of a great chain, linking backwards in time, back to the very beginning. It’s what we confess in the creed when we say that we believe in the “holy catholic Church”. It’s what it means to have brothers and sisters, throughout space and time, who are bearers of the same hope as ours.

why do I believe in God? From one perspective, it’s because my father does, and my grandmother does, and because John Calvin did, and because St. Francis did, and because the Apostle Paul did, and Mary, and David, and Ruth, and Moses, and Noah, and Adam, and Eve. And more. So many more, all links in the great chain that binds us all.

And if they saw God, if they could carry on in hope, then maybe I can, too. And maybe I can be the next link in the chain, reaching down from here to the end of time, drawing us all together into glorious union with each other and the One Who loves us all.


A serious thought for April Fool’s Day

When it comes to April Fool’s Day, I’m a bit of a Scrooge. I honestly don’t like walking through life trying to figure out if I’m being scammed and tricked, even by well-meaning folks. Clever is okay, but clever is hard, and most pranks aren’t all that clever.

All that preface to say: the following is a serious suggestion.

Sorry to do this to you, but…how are those New Year’s resolutions coming?

Yeah, mine too. And while I’m willing to blame some of that on the specifics of my recent life, there’s a larger problem that impacts many of us, I’m thinking.

February.

I’m just going to say it: February sucks. I live in Illinois, and the winter wasteland that the Midwest becomes in the dead of winter is a hard place for my soul. And, even if you love winter, I doubt that it’s a season that energizes you to do new work. (Hey, if I’m wrong, tell me about it in the comments! People are all different, and I’d love to hear from an alternate viewpoitn on this.)

So, if February is a source of major soul-suck, why do we schedule our major life changes–New Year’s resolutions–in January, when they will be immediately tested by the brutal soul-suck of February?

This makes sense, at least to my own psychology.

Wouldn’t it be better to acknowledge that winter is a hard time to muster much energy? Wouldn’t it be better to wait for “New Year’s” resolutions until a later time in the year?

Say, April 1?

No one is totally sure why April Fool’s Day came to be. One theory has to do with March 25 being observed as New Year’s Day with a week-long festival that would have ended on April 1. I don’t know if this is true or not. But, for our purposes, it doens’t matter. Maybe, for creative work or forming new habits, April 1 could be a better day to begin. Maybe this would set us up for success, by drawing on the increasing sun and the energizing of spring to power our ambitions, instead of trying to stoke passion in the coldest, hardest months.

For me, I’m going to give this a go. I know that there are practices that have been languishing. I’m willing to set aside the last couple of months and write them off as a loss. Time to start again.

And next year, I’ll allow my winter to be a time of hibernation, of lying fallow beneath a blanket of snow. Spring will arrive soon enough, and there will be time to sow when it is warm.


In the midst of the congregation I will praise you

I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: 
You who fear the Lord, praise him! 
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, 
and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! 
For he has not despised or abhorred 
the affliction of the afflicted, 
and he has not hidden his face from him, 
but has heard, when he cried to him. 
(Psalm 22:22-24)

In case you haven’t seen the news on social media, let me tell you:

My children will not go blind.

Yes, they will still struggle with night blindness, which will have its impact, but that’s it.

They’ll still be able to see.

Thursday morning, I came downstairs to find Arianna and Justice working on a whiteboard stop-animation. Because they’re like that. And now, I know that blindness won’t take that away.

Thank you for your prayers.

From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will perform before those who fear him. 
The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; 
those who seek him shall praise the Lord! 
May your hearts live forever! (‭Psalm‬ ‭22‬:‭25-26‬)


Moments of transition

The future is all around us, waiting, in moments of transition, to be born in moments of revelation. No one knows the shape of that future or where it will take us. We know only that it is always born in pain.”–Babylon 5

To catch you up, you should read this post first. It’ll save me some time.

Done? Good.

So. Here we are. Tomorrow is a fork in the road. Down one path is night blindness for my children. Down the other path is blindness for my children. Today, the universe holds its breath. Tomorrow…tomorrow we know.

I desperately want there to be a third path. One where the doctors can’t find the scaly flecks on the back of my children’s eyes. I don’t mean a medical mistake. I saw the photos of their eyes and mine. I know there’s been no mistake. I just want a miracle where they are gone.

I know that God can. Of that, I have no doubt. The question is: will He?

In Matthew 8, when the leper looked to Him in faith, He said, “I am willing” and healed Him. But will He heal my children?

Today the universe holds its breath. But tomorrow….

My church prayed for us. We came to the front of the church (in two services!) and they gathered around us and held us before the Father. They laid hands on us. They anointed us with oil. They have been near to us and will continue to be with us, and that is beautiful.

Right now, it’s the waiting that’s the worst. I want to skip over tomorrow and just know. At the same time, I want time to stop. Right here. Right now. So tomorrow doesn’t have to happen. Because, maybe if it doesn’t happen, everything will be okay, and none of it will be true.

But that’s not how it works. And down the road we go, drawing nearer to that fork, praying for a miracle.

And here’s where I’m supposed to offer some sort of spiritual insight or pivot to say it’s not that bad. But I’m not going to. Yes, I’m entrusting myself to the wisdom of God, but sometimes His wisdom is hard.

My friend Vicky reminded me that this could be an amazing week. And it’s true. But right now, I’m stuck in the waiting.

And I’m scared.

And I’m holding my breath.