Dear friends, a nonprofit that I follow closely was recently presented with a startling need: 1300 Syrian refugee families living in homes with no heat, no mattresses, no blankets.
A big part of my winter life in Vermont revolves around blankets. I spend every single evening tucking our two youngest girls under blankets–draping the blanket just over that invisible line across their shoulders, straightening the lines, running the tips of my fingers over the folds. We have plug-in heated blankets piled on couches, waiting for someone to snuggle under them. The girls have large bedspread blankets that they consider their favorites and often drag downstairs to setup the boundaries of a game, or their space for an afternoon. And then there is the three layer cake approach that I like to keep on our bed: a lightweight quilt, then a wool blanket layer, and then a fluffy down comforter layer on top.
This nonprofit, Partners Relief & Development, is one of those small-team, rapid-action, quick to the disaster operators. I always have the feeling that once my money is deposited with them it is immediately withdrawn to purchase a bag of food or give a reusable feminine hygiene kit to a woman anticipating her next period that very day.
By their estimate, $35 will buy enough blankets and mattresses for one family of five. And another $35 can buy a diesel heater to heat their space. The temperatures where these families are in Northern Syria is very similar to Vermont right now: 30s and 40s.
This photo was taken by my friend Ashleigh Coleman. I have an Advent meditation and series of photographs by her to share with you below. She and I want to direct energies toward getting these families supplies to keep them warm. The sooner, the warmer! To that end, Ashleigh will send a 5×5 print of this photograph^^ to anyone who donates to Partners Relief’s blankets campaign.
To receive a photograph in the mail, email a screenshot of your donation (you’ll receive an email receipt shortly after you donate) and include your mailing address to me at rachael.ringenberg(AT)gmail(DOT)com. Or, if you have a google account, upload a screenshot of your donation and share your mailing address with me right here. For the sake of matriarchal holiday sanity and to give the USPS any break we can, these prints will be mailed in January. If you don’t need a print, but would like to have your donation noted in our collective whole, you are still welcome to share your donation receipt with us.
And now, for Ashleigh’s mediation on Mississippi monarchs and Advent, accompanied by 17 images from her lockdown this spring:
This is not your typical advent reflection. This is not our typical year.
Anticipation and waiting mark this season. But every day since March has been a practice in waiting for answers, in anticipating life returning to normal. So maybe this is a traditional reflection, but instead of holly and lights, I’m meditating on raising Monarchs.
During March and lockdown, we began walking almost daily. It gave us a combination of burning off anxiety for me and freeing energy for the children. It also unexpectedly became a tether to hope. These encounters with the wonders of the natural world reminded me to holdfast to what I know is true and good.
One late afternoon, the sun low on the horizon, we saw a lone monarch lilting across the top of the meadow grasses. Having visited Rachael and Joe the previous summer and seeing their monarchs, I immediately looked more closely at what was growing.
Milkweed. And 100s of tiny monarch caterpillars munching, unaware of the global disruptions. Thus began seven weeks of raising monarchs from microscopic eggs to instars to velvety fat caterpillars to shockingly colored butterflies on their way north.
It had been years since I was so obsessed. Each morning brought a new note in my journal on the changes in these miraculous insects. I prowled the fields. I watched. I waited. I squealed with delight when a chrysalis would form and then again when a monarch would emerge fourteen days later.
Now I keep the chrysalis husks hanging in my dining room— an ebenezer of anticipation. Waiting. Wonder.
Ashleigh Coleman is a Mississippi based photographer, and mother of three. Most recently her work has been featured in A Yellow Rose Project (click that link, it’s an incredible project!) and she was recently named a 2020 Southern Arts Southern Prize & Fellowship recipient.