December days roll along. The felt tree fills as we settle into a groove of lighting advent candles during dinner and putting up the piece at the end.
This year’s reading time is less structured and, as a result, more peaceful. Whatever it is I have been striving for year after year has been laid to rest. I continue to learn to embrace the present.
Embracing the present looks like trusting the words I read yesterday morning in Deuteronomy 31:6,7 NLT Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or panic . . . for the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.
How quickly I flee from love to fear, from peace to panic. These words reminded me again of my anchor. I can trust the one who goes before me, ordering my steps.
I love the picture of handmade felt Advent pieces in the header. I wanted to plan a post around it, but nothing came. The words I tried felt awkward and clunky. Instead of joy, I felt burdened and pressured for something to say.
It is Christmas Eve, 2017, and Christmas cards have not been sent. There are no Christmas cards in the mail this year. No New Year’s cards. None. If you have not received a card and you sent one, thank you for the joy that you brought to us. Thank you for extending grace and understanding this year.
It does not mean we will never send out cards again. The tradition may resume next year. It is just that this year Christmas cards were a thing we could say no to, and it is nobody’s fault, in spite of any rumors you may hear.
If there is any fault, I am the one to blame. The decision was made for sure after Thanksgiving, though the thought had been rolling around in my head a bit before then. Thanksgiving brought confirmation that I was trying to hold onto something that is not here right now, and the tighter I tried to grasp, the faster and messier it slipped from my hand.
Last Thanksgiving, all eight children sat around the table. It was a rare moment, and I thought, This could be the last time this happens in this way ~ no spouses or significant others ~ just the siblings. After our 4:00 meal, we dashed outside so that the grandparents could snap a picture of us, which became our Christmas Card.
That is how I remember it, dashing outside to snap a quick picture.
So this year, even though some were missing, I thought, We will do the same thing. Eat at 4, then head outside for a picture, and that will be what I use for Christmas.
Only we did not eat at 4, and with each passing moment, as the sun lowered in the sky, the photo-op slipped away. Still I grasped, and worse, I did not communicate my thoughts or desires to the family. That is what did me in and where the fault lies, if we are finding it.
I am not the only person in this family.
It was after 5:00. The sun was setting. People were being summoned from all corners of the house to come to the table, and I threw out, But first, let’s run outside and take a picture.
It did not go over well. Understandably. Each person has feelings and experiences tied to having a family picture taken, and just because some were more vocal does not mean others did not feel similarly. I realized immediately the many errors of my ways and retracted the request.
It’s okay. Really. We do not need to take a picture. I think I was trying to hold onto something that has passed, and I did not even prepare you for the moment. It’s nobody’s fault (because we often move to blame), it’s just what it is this year.
So Merry Christmas, Dear Readers and Friends! May you honor what is real while holding hope for what is to come as you celebrate!
The house is thick with silence as I sit on my bed and think. This rare moment of comfort is brought to me by a son’s work party, another’s dinner invitation, a youth group gift exchange, a husband spending quality time out with the youngest, and animals whose bellies are full.
The pink candle glowed with the others as we ate chicken noodle soup and cream-cheese crackers sprinkled with mini pepperonis. A gift-box on the felt tree reminded of the gifts that we give and receive. It symbolized the greatest gift.
Those around the table joked of Santa and presents and the meaning of the colors pink and purple in those contexts. The TRUE meaning of Christmas. Wits were quick and laughter quicker and for some moments there was joy, deep and rich and full and secure. Brief. Fleeting.
Hours have passed since I first sat down to write. The rare, thick, quiet comfort vanished within minutes by a knock at the door, the bark of a dog, the return of people. Activity resumed. Cookies appeared.
For an introvert who feels deep joy in silence, it is challenging to have constant engagement crashing the space. I love all of the people, the other introverts and extroverts who live in this house with me, and we all struggle. For some the exuberance is too much. For others the quiet is too much.
Wherever we land on the socialization spectrum, there is too much, too many. I joke that each of us would have made a great only child. Yet here we are. Together. Trying to figure out life. Braving the season of joy. Feeding off of one another when the groove is right, crashing and burning into each other when we are off.
My room attracts everyone like a magnet. They gather around as I try to wrap up my rambling words into some sort of cohesive point on joy that seems to be slipping further and further from my thoughts. There’s a video to watch and a dog to hold and a younger sister annoying an older one. I know now that the feeling rising inside of me is a warning, and it is not of impending joy.
Using my voice to ask for what I need, I request a few more bits of quiet to wrap up this writing before tucking everyone in for the night. They graciously adjourn to the dining room, where I hear laughter that threatens to turn.
And I sit. Grateful for the gift of a place to ponder and feel what it means to experience comfort while waiting for the joy that is here.
I decided to get more candles. Rather, I requested that my husband pick some up last Saturday while running errands with a daughter. I knew exactly where I had seen the boxes of pre-packaged, advent-colored, purple and pink candles.
They were sold out.
Instead a text image came through with the image of bulk candles and a question, Is the indigo color okay? I missed the message.
He bought three indigo and one white candle. I like the indigo color much better in person.
The following day, I used the seasonal snowflake paperbag that the candles were packaged in to cover a small cardboard box. I glued the words Get ready on one side and Celebrate on the other. I pressed the five candles into floral foam, lining them with pinecones and berries.
It was my adult son’s idea to move it from the living room mantel to the lazy Susan in the middle of the table. Each night we light the candles during dinner and put up the felt tree piece afterwards. It has been the most chill Advent to date.
If you look closely, you can see some scatter I added this week in honor of Hanukkah.
I love all things miniature and could not resist them!
Speaking of felt tree, this is how ours looks today, December 16, 2017. There are 15 objects placed, and the wall hanging makes 16. Since this particular activity begins December 1, we are actually on track. This is a momentous occasion for us.
Usually we miss several days and spend much time catching up. The candles on the table have been the game changer for us this year.
I chose to persist, in keeping with my word for a few more days. It has not been easy, but it has been good.
As week one of Advent 2017 draws to a close, I confess that I still do not have an advent wreath with candles to light. There are several felt pieces placed on the Advent tree, but we have not lit a candle. This might be an inadvertent grace bestowed upon our house, as there is a resulting lack of strife over that particular tradition.
It happened this way. I saw through a small clear storage bin, poking out of the top of a felt Christmas gift bag, one pink candle. I was rummaging around the Christmas section of the cellar taking inventory of what was there over Thanksgiving break.
Advent arrived late this year, the latest possible date. Seeing that pink candle offered a false confidence that I did not have to worry about gathering others. I did not investigate further. Certainly there were purple and white ones in the bin, as well. Certainly the varied-height brass candle holders were buried in the bottom of that felt bag. Certainly I would not have decluttered them after last Christmas thinking, I will start over fresh next year with a new idea.
There was so much certainty.
I moved on to other things.
The girls helped assemble and decorate the living room tree the day after Thanksgiving while the boys went hiking. They cleared mantels, pulled out Nutcrackers and other decorations, and created a festive atmosphere in the living and dining rooms. I did not have to do much, other than rejoice in the fact that there was still one Sunday before the beginning of Advent.
I passed by a display of Advent candles at the Farmer’s Market while shopping with my daughter the following day. I don’t need to spend $7.50 on those. I have candles in the basement. Certainly.
There was one pink candle in the basement. It is still there.
I am uncertain.
I am uncertain as to whether I will search out and purchase more candles. I am uncertain about how I will choose to display them if I do. I am uncertain about why this even matters.
Maybe it mirrors more fully the uncertainty I feel in other areas of life that have, frankly, felt certain. They were so certain that I did not have to look more closely at them. I knew they were there in the bin. Sure, I could only actually see one thing, but the others had to be close behind.
Except they weren’t, and now I have to decide what to do. It feels a lot bigger than heading to the store for something new. It is heading into my heart to discover the hidden, to seek out what matters, to find what was lost.
Maybe in the continued unpacking of Christmas decorations, I will discover the candles and holders. Maybe in continued processing I will find what is true in my heart.
Maybe that one pink candle will lead me to something new.
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. Psalm 62:5
There were too many strikes against the wounded places in my heart this morning to sit through church. Already late from the effort it still takes to get everyone out of the house, which seems eerily similar to what it was years ago only in a different way, I arrived halfway through the one song I was hoping to sing.
Enduring the rustling and settling of the children who sit with us while hoping that the ones who do not were doing what they were supposed to in the back, I tried to focus on the task at hand and enter worship. I was frustrated and exhausted.
Darkness is familiar, and the deepness that it brings threatens to pull my soul further into a void. The constant struggle to remain upright and grounded is real.
It was a lifetime ago, yet I still grieve. What am I grieving? What feels life-giving? I held that tension in my heart while looking up at the glow of a single candle signifying the beginning of Advent. I stood and sat and tried to sing what was hard.
Your law is good. . .
I could not make it through all of the words. It was nothing less than a miracle that I sang that song from the stage last week when I was on worship team, revealing how well I can shore up and do what needs to be done in the moment.
Standing as Scripture was read, feeling the ground beneath me, I breathed in, holding hope that I could do this. I sat.
Words came at me, and I noticed them blurring together. It took energy and effort to stay present, and I was doing really well.
God expects full obedience to his commandments.
The sermon series on the Ten Commandments continues. Whatever week this is feels a week too long. Each week is too long.
I believe and agree with this. I am also deeply triggered by this. There were too many strikes against my spiritually wounded heart this morning to sit and hear the very verses about the law that were used to beat me into submission and rob me of life. They bring no comfort.
Maybe comfort is there. . . just not right now. Maybe there is hope for healing from an abuse of the law, but right now I need comfort and care. I did not feel it in this space.
I spend much time comforting and caring.
I found myself in the tension of longing to communicate, of pressing into the questions surrounding the fray while trying to contain all that was dumping out of my heart.
Is there balm in Gilead?
As a terrified sixteen-year-old girl I was trying to grasp the law on my own and be pleasing. As a forty-six year old woman living with the implication of this desire, it is difficult to see goodness. All I feel is sadness and deep pain.
I am aware that others are not responsible for how their words are inadvertently used to crash into my heart. It does not make the crashing any less painful. It was in the pain that I found myself sitting in the breezeway, ear buds in, listening to music while writing in my journal.
We are all full of stories.
Later I found myself sitting with a friend, hearing more of her story, asking her about hope.
Today is the candle of hope. The very questions I asked my friend, I ask myself. What does hope look like to you? When did you feel hope? What do you hope for?
This is where I am and what I will be pondering this first week of Advent.
My Bible reading plan this year is chronological. That means intensive Old Testament time. Nine months to be exact. God’s word is always alive and powerful, speaking to wherever we are in the moment. The minor prophets were calling to me for months. As was the weeping one. There was lots of weeping.
Steve would tease me before bed, Time to be encouraged by a dose of Lamentations.
In a strange way, I am encouraged by the Old Testament. It is full of mess and grief and people who see God directly, hear from him specifically, and still do the opposite. It has people who follow the rules and are foiled and who break them and are blessed.
There are stories that occur over chapters and those in just a few verses, whose magnitude is more real to me the more I live and experience life. The Old Testament is a reminder that there is indeed nothing new under the sun.
In the midst of poor choices, direct disobedience, chaos, and confusion, God is still glorified and working all things. I am neither a theologian nor a Bible scholar. That is not what this is about. I am not trying to prove points or make cases. I may be a kindred spirit with Jeremiah, but I digress.
This is about Jesus showing up this week, as I finally made it to the New Testament. How timely to read about his entrance into our world on a day when the horror was magnified. Even though he has been here all along and is well-acquainted with our sorrow and grief, it brought comfort to be reminded again.
He chose to come to us.
It reminds me of one of my children and the Baby Jesus story.
One year, a particular child was in kindergarten. His Sunday School teacher gave each child in the class a plastic nativity scene to assemble. She gave each parent a sealed envelope with a note and the Baby Jesus inside. The note contained instructions about helping the child assemble the nativity scene and how to respond when they noticed the baby was missing. We were to put it in the manger on Christmas Day.
This particular child tore into the box immediately in the van after church. Where is he? Where is the Baby Jesus? He demanded.
Determined to follow the plan, I mentioned that it was not Christmas yet. We would have to wait and see.
Come on, Mom. He already came! Now where is it?
Laughing, I had to admit that he had me, as I pulled it out of the envelope.
That is how it feels. Jesus already came. He has been in my Old Testament reading, and I know that. In the midst of all that is wrong, there is also right. I am not pretending to have the answers. I am just grateful to be resting in the comfort of the Gospels.
I sit in day two. That’s what this is. The aftermath. Burial.
Christmas Eve Eve was day one. Death. The melting down day that started full of such hope and excitement.
Brunch at The Little Grill with my luvvvah to plan and regroup for the next few days was a breath of fresh air. After so much fullness to manage in both of our lives, it was nice to have a moment to connect.
The day stretched before us, and we mapped it out. Shopping. A movie with the kids. Pizza night. Good things. We began to execute our plan. Check things off.
Home for lunch and a dog walk and assessment of who really wanted to see Rogue One found five of us going and three of us free to stay home.
No spoilers here. I watched most of the movie, missing only the dozing-off parts, but waking in time for what mattered. I will watch it again when it comes out on DVD.
The fullness in my chest at the end was a combination of nostalgia, Star Wars is the first movie my family watched on the Beta Vision in our living room back on Nicholson St. ~ in Spanish, remembering, I saw Return of the Jedi for a middle-school friend’s birthday in a fancy theater with a curtain that pulled back followed by a sleep-over at her house, and grief, I miss playing that bass line on the bassoon for pieces like the Star Wars theme music. Music just stays with you like that, and you remember the rhythms and notes and feelings.
I didn’t cry, though. Much. Maybe a tear.
This has been my clue that something big was brewing. My lack of tears. I attended two funeral/memorial services over the past two weeks and had few tears. I have felt big feelings that deserved the honor of weeping for them, and nothing would come. Just numbness.
I was aware that this wasn’t good. I kept going. I have to keep going.
After the movie, my son needed to go to Costco with a member, and that was me. It was empty and calm, and I decided to get the rest of the Christmas groceries while the space was less frenetic than usual.
Pushing through the heaviness mounting inside, I began to fill the cart. Realizing the blessing of being able to do so, I tried to smile, to trick my brain into feeling happy. It wasn’t really working. I kept going.
Sparing the details, my stress level boiled up and over and all of the kind tears that have been inviting me to feel them were shoved aside by the ugly ones that I was able to keep in check until returning home where they spilled and spewed up and over and out.
There were a lot of tears. And sobs. And tissues. I filled an entire Target bag with soggy sobby tissues. All the things I had to cry for, the griefs to feel, the achings and longings came pouring out.
So here is today.
I sit in the aftermath of copious tears with a throbbing head and puffy eyes. Lots of voices chatter outside of my bedroom door. I hear other doors open and shut. People come and go. Discussions take place. I try to find motivation to finish up the few things that I have left on my list. They are important.
In order to do that I must get moving!
My hope is that yesterday’s tears have watered my heart enough to keep it soft and open with anticipation for what is coming.
We can’t control another’s experience of how we show up in their life.
This is a difficult truth, because I want to believe that everyone is experiencing me at my well-intended best self. My intentions are good. They are. I want you to remember my intention towards you, even if you have no idea what that is, seeing as it is inside of me.
I care. Really, I do.
But you will remember your experience of me. There are times when even at our best-intentioned self, we miss the mark completely. We harm or disappoint not only by things we do but also by those things we don’t. The older I get, the more stories people (including my adult children) share of how they have experienced me, the more real this becomes.
How better-intentioned can it be than to send out Christmas cards to beloved friends? I sat down Monday morning, the first day of break, and diligently began hand-addressing envelopes. I was determined to do better than years gone by and not wait until Christmas Eve.
I did it. I got those envelopes addressed, stuffed, and stamped.
Two hours later, a quick walk with the dog to the post office, and I had most of the Christmas cards mailed. A few needed address double-checks or a little something extra added to the envelope. The rest were stragglers or hand-deliverables.
It felt good to have a Christmas task crossed off of the list while spending time with one of my favorite littles.
A few days later, a friend posted a Facebook status and photo of an empty Christmas card envelope she received.
Someone sent me an empty Christmas card envelope.
Immediately I knew it was mine. It’s clear by that silver foil lining and the handwriting showing through. Can’t everybody tell? Is all of cyberspace looking at me right now? I sent an empty envelope to the very friend whose beautiful card I received today.
Seeing the picture and skimming the comments below it brought a feeling of deep personal shame. Thankfully, I was able to recognize that lie and stop the downward emotional spiral before anger and self-contempt took over. I spoke truth to my heart.
There is no shame in not being perfect. It is okay to make a mistake. You don’t have to justify or explain. It was an inadvertent omission. Not. Intentional. You are not defined by a Christmas card, and yes, you will continue to send cards.
I stepped up in the comments, owned my mistake and my feelings, and was immediately surrounded by love, care, and understanding. Stories were shared and my friend told me it actually brought her a lot of joy.
That is the thing, Dear Readers. I fully intended for my friend to open that envelope and receive Christmas Blessings from me in the form of a beautiful card. Sometimes we do show up just as we thought we would and are received as such. The card is there and gets put up around the mirror and the day moves on.
But other times.
Sometimes we think we showed up when we didn’t. And we don’t even know it. We didn’t check social media. We weren’t on social media. Our friend wasn’t on social media. There just wasn’t a card. And life goes on and maybe drifts apart, and we didn’t know and didn’t see and didn’t intend.
Sometimes we find out about it in time and are able to resend a card. We saw the post, recognized the envelope and handwriting, dealt with our feelings, shared honestly from the heart.
Sometimes we show up in our absence. In giving others space to feel their own feelings about the void.
We can’t control another’s experience of how we show up. We can only keep trying. I will walk to the post office in a bit with card number two and try again.
The tree is down. Decorations are boxed. The stockings were found ~ two days late. Thankfully, Dollar Tree had some in stock on Christmas Eve.
But I like my sparkly NEW stocking! said a certain mini-me when I announced my basement find on December 27.
Fixed the newel post! Found the stockings!
Wrapping up Christmas at our house this year feels scattered. Steve and I sat down with coffee and his trusty notebook recently to reflect on the season and discuss what went well and what was rough.
Went well ~ Christmas budget
Rough ~ actually taking time to purchase/ order gifts
Went well ~ Christmas cards ordered on November 2 WITH a coupon AND stamps purchased
Rough ~ actually addressing and sending the cards
Went well ~ Planned romantic weekend getaway
Rough ~ Wrong weekend, last~minute scrambling with plans B and C, sickness We DID go away. Maybe it will be an anniversary post. Maybe not. Still processing it.
Went well ~ Many concerts, programs, recitals to attend featuring our talented children
Rough ~ actually writing dates of events on the calendar, outfitting the performers Here is where I also apologize to grandparents for failing to keep them informed of these last-minute dates, as well. They are wonderfully supportive when they actually know about their grandkids’ concerts and events!
Went well ~ Watching the Grinch as a family and laughing hysterically together
Rough ~ Keeping up with Advent readings and felt tree Maybe NOBODY has actually put up the manger on Christmas morning. Have we ever made it there?
Went well ~ Attending the Christmas Eve candle-light service at our church with Steve
Rough ~ Silencing the voices in my head that were judging us for leaving our children at the grandparents’ house playing with the cousins so that we could enjoy a worshipful date. Look at all of those other families in matching outfits with their children in a row on Christmas Eve celebrating the true meaning of Christmas together.
Went well ~ the Christmas puzzle
Rough ~ I didn’t put in a single piece. Wait! Maybe that is a score! Mission accomplished!
There is much more, but I will spare you, Kind Reader, further boring details. Suffice to say, there was much to do and not much time in which to do it. Often a friend would come up to me and ask, How ARE you? followed by an apologetic I’m sorry I haven’t had time to keep up with the blog.
That makes two of us!
Please, never apologize for not keeping up with the blog.
I am grateful for all who loved and prayed for us this Advent season. There were cards sent, checks written, Amazon gift boxes delivered, notes and texts received. There were shoulders cried on. There was grace extended. There was truth reminded.
After all was unwrapped, we wrapped up a lovely Christmas season!