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Monthly Archives: December 2014
The Christmas season is upon us….again. It sort of snuck up and pounced, as it always seems to do. There is so much going on, both in our personal lives and on the world stage, and that makes it a challenge to truly feel settled and ready to face yet another holiday season. I don’t know if it’s truly the state of the world, or just my inability to keep up as my plate continues to fill up, but each year finds me increasingly bogged down as I try to run around completing an impossible task list while trying to summon the energy to add gift shopping, menu creating, party planning, extra church services and (oh, the horror) seasonal decorating to the bundle.
In addition, the media is increasingly full of negative, divisive and sensationalist stories….while decreasing the air time of Christmas specials, Rudolph and Frosty, and cheery classics. In this day of corruption and frustration and literal as well as spiritual disease, we search desperately for something pure and constant to cling to. There is such a sense of despair and negativity in our nation, our community, our world…. I know there have been many cycles of this throughout history. It’s hard to live in them, in the times when people are tired and discouraged. There is a pervading sense of disappointment and cynicism – towards almost everything. It can get crushing if we let it.
And yet….. We don’t have to let it, do we?
This past week, Emry’s preschool had it’s annual Christmas performance. This, too, popped up on the calendar, catching us unawares, mostly because I hadn’t paid all that much attention to it on the original beginning-of-the-year master list of events. Before you judge me for this lapse, let me vindicate myself with an explanation. The reason we didn’t mark it in red on our schedules was because of last year’s experience. We didn’t even go last year. When the time came for the program I was so excited to plan her turn on the St. Paul stage (Drew always had a special little part when he was in it, little ham….and had played one of the three Wise Men/Kings his last year there; Luke was an air maracas champion in his years during their rendition of Feliz Navidad). The day I was going to take her shopping for her Christmas outfit, she informed me in very clear terms that she would not be participating in the show. When pressed, she had very little explanation as to why, just that she would not be singing. Period. She didn’t like being on stage and refused to even entertain the thought of singing or smiling in front of an audience. Despite the fact that she is literally my mini-me, I sat blinking at her and wondering how she could possibly be my child. I thought I was quite clever when I told her that if she didn’t sing, none of us would go. I had no desire to sit and watch other people’s pre-schoolers sing if mine didn’t. Her answer was, “Fine.” Problem solved. We missed our first performance in years. Ouch.
I had no expectations of this year. So imagine my surprise when my spunky little non-conformist came home and informed us that she was so excited about her pending performance and special part in it. She kept mentioning Baby Jesus, and holding him and waiting for her turn to walk in, and practicing songs….. As it turned out, those brave souls at her school cast her in the role of Mary. I was floored, a bit proud, and more than a little hesitant. She tends to have her own ideas and interpretations, our little Bug…..plus, she really doesn’t like to be put in the spotlight (I still have no words for this) unless it’s in a very controlled situation. And, you know, sassy isn’t a strong enough word to describe her. Serene and obedient, not so much. The day of the performance, one of her teachers told me she clinched the part because of her ability to remember and follow cues without prompting….and because she wasn’t likely to pick her nose in front of everyone. Fabulous. Glad to know she aced the casting call.
The morning of her debut, we talked about it the whole way to school. We reviewed how fun it would be, and how cool it was she was such an important part (even though her Mary costume choked her), and how she would do her part just like in practice no matter what (apparently, Baby Jesus had a wardrobe malfunction the day before in rehearsal when she dropped him and his cloth diaper fell off…prompting the staff to safety pin his clothes on…..no one needs a nativity story that involves the Savior of the world mooning a crowd), and how the whole family would be there to clap for her and take pictures, etc. She was quite taken with the idea of being the center of the universe for an evening, but a little nervous about being in front of an audience (seriously – how did her dad’s genes trump me there?). I just kept staring at her, thinking, “How is she big enough to be doing this?”
We took up an entire row in the beautiful little chapel filled with parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, family friends and anyone else roped into coming. There were cameras everywhere and babies cooing or crying as they became restless five seconds after settling in to wait for the show to start. There were the inevitable children who cried until they ran off the stage or were walked to sit with their parents. There was shuffling around as we jockeyed for video recording position. Performers looked anxiously around until they found their people, then stopped whatever they were supposed to be doing to wave enthusiastically or shout, “Hi, Mommy!” The sound of children singing filled the air, and the characters of the nativity entered as cued by the lines of the story. Adorable young ones trooped across the stage dressed as stars, angels, sheep, donkeys, wise men, an inn keeper, Joseph and, finally, Mary.
She was the cutest thing ever, our beloved Mary, as she entered oh-so-seriously, carrying her precious cargo. Never mind that she held the doll the way you or I would carry in a load of firewood…..it was darling. She walked to the center of the stage and stood by Joseph, holding the baby carefully, and then placing him in the manger right on cue (no drops, no clothing issues). And while I wouldn’t classify her as the most enthusiastic singer up there, she stayed her ground and participated the entire time. All of the nativity participants were amazing sports, posing for a plethora of pictures at the end of the pageant. They even smiled for most of them.
If you ever need a reminder of the magic of Christmas, go watch children perform the story. There is no better cure for a worn or fretful heart.
As I stood in that chapel, these words were stamped all over mine.
John 3:17 – For God did not send His Son into the world that He might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.
I watched and listened to all of the people around me. I watched friends and family smile and laugh and hug. I watched babies and toddlers being passed from person to person, getting kisses and hugs and smiles galore. I watched proud parents and grandparents take pictures, pose for pictures and exclaim over their tiny thespians with giant smiles and boundless zeal. I watched teachers beam and students preen under the spotlight of accomplishment. I heard greetings and goodbyes and laughter and conversation. I heard the Father’s children, gathered together in His name, acknowledging His birth and presence and gift to humanity, as they enjoyed each other in His house.
I watched and listened. And it was perfect.
Because it was exactly the point. God sent His Son to us, through unconventional means, in the most humble beginning imaginable, so that we could be saved. The story is simple, yet no less amazing because of that. The facts are easy to remember, easy to repeat, easy to teach. They are supposed to be, so that anyone can learn them, even a small child. Or perhaps a rushed and frazzled adult.
No one in that lovely chapel seemed rushed or frazzled in our time together. There was peace, not in the form of quite, but in the absence of restlessness or confrontation. There was joy, as we laughed and loved and celebrated the birth of our Lord in through the accomplishments of our children. There was hope, as we gazed on our little stars beneath the lights of the Christmas stage, and let them guide us into the Spirit of the season. We were a family, if only for that moment, catching a glimpse of what that is supposed to feel like, what it will feel like when we carouse with the actual guest of honor someday.
I was so grateful, and so humbled that night.
I continue to be so, as we rush headlong into the final days before Christmas.
The perfect plan deserves nothing less than our best….but our best according to what His plan meant.
In my rush to check off lists and create the perfect meal and buy the right gifts and perpetuate traditions, I am convicted to celebrate in the way Jesus envisions. To stop and breathe, and thank Him and remember that He came and why. To love my family and my neighbor, and remember just how much He loves them – as much as He loves me. To cherish togetherness and bonding, and to spread His light as I run from place to place. To embody joy, and pass on this message to my children in a way that is real and tangible and permanent.
To know the reason for the season in a way that I live it, truly live it, in every fiber of my being. That, my lovelies, would be the best gift of all.
Solidarity, sisters. May your days be merry and bright.
It’s my last night as a thirty-something, and since I think this is my 39th blog post (I think…it most likely is, but we all know my issues with math…..let’s just go with it for synergy), I wanted to be sure to write one before the day dawns on my 40th year of existence. As I sit here on my couch with the Christmas tree twinkling, fire going in the hearth, kids safely tucked into bed and Gregg dozing his way through a football game next to me, the word that keeps coming to mind is “bliss”. I am, quite simply, sublimely happy.Had I written this 48 hours ago, you’d be reading an entirely different blog.
Lest you get the wrong idea, or feel like I am lying, let me assure you…..I am not exactly going gently into that good night. I haven’t particularly embraced the idea of turning forty with grace, and am raging against the dying of my thirties with an intensity that Dylan Thomas would envy if he could see it. In fact, as long as I’m being transparent here, I’ll fill you in by confessing to the fact that I cried for a solid hour the night before last. My poor husband sat there alternating between hugs and awkwardly patting me as I sobbed, “I’m just not ready to be forty” over and over again. Since he just had this lovely milestone himself three weeks ago, he was a little more empathetic than he might have been otherwise.
You may be thinking unkind thoughts at this point. Silly? Perhaps. Superficial? Undoubtedly. Selfish? Maybe. Human? Absolutely. I didn’t say I was proud of myself. I just said I was honest. It’s how I felt, and I couldn’t help my reaction despite how embarrassed I was about it. It’s been building all year. I knew forty would be a tough one, and it hasn’t disappointed. This number has been a hump I’m dreading to go over for quite some time. And I’m not sure why. I’ve never had a birthday meltdown before. Maybe because all my other marker numbers occurred during milestones in my life that distracted me – at 25 I was getting married; at 30 Luke was a baby and we were walking through the frustration of fertility meds and hit/misses while trying to have Drew; at 35 I had just given birth to Emry and was in the midst of newborn craziness and post-partum depression splendor. Who had time for a birthday freak out?
Or maybe forty was my lose-your-mind number all along and there was no avoiding this. Who knows? It doesn’t really matter. It just is what it is. The only reason I didn’t totally sink into a black pit of despair was that my girlfriends had something up their sleeves – and this crew knows how to do surprises.
So, yesterday morning, we got up and dressed, packed an overnight bag, and headed to the rendezvous location as instructed. I cried almost the whole way over, which was stressful for my lovely hubby. I tried explaining to him that my tears were no longer about mourning my march across the sands of time, but now they were tears of joy. My primary love languages are gifts and acts of service, and a surprise weekend is the culmination of both of those things. He just wanted me to calm down and stop weeping, regardless of the reason behind the tears.
Our friends had literally been planning this weekend for six months – it was a dual surprise birthday extravaganza to celebrate both my and Gregg’s birthdays. And it was epic. The moment the first surprise was revealed, the screaming began (we never outgrow that, do we girls?), and I spent the next 36 hours laughing and/or crying in rapid succession and alternating cycles. It was epic. And I will always remember this weekend as one of the times in my life when I have felt the most blessed.
We did a wine tour bus (the same company we used a few years ago for Kat’s 40th, and I think our precious guide/driver was at least as excited as we were – we’re a memorable group), and the amount of singing and dancing and revelry on that bus (and all the stops) was beyond what I can express in words. The guys were a bit overwhelmed at first, but eventually joined in (at perhaps lower volumes….and with less dancing), adopting a “when in Rome” kind of mentality.
You don’t get this in your twenties, not really. I mean, sure, you have fun weekends and parties and memory-making events. You have fun and laugh and sing and dance, and you may even build friendships that go deeper than most and/or last for many years to come. In rare circumstances, you might possibly even do a weekend like this with no drama. But here’s what you haven’t gotten to, at least not yet. Some things are forty years in the making.
Like, friends whom you love with an intensity that rivals blood family, because they are truly the sisters of your heart….in every way. And surprises that involve your spouse, which mean so much because as much as he loves your girlfriends, he gets to see them doing what they do best, to be on the receiving end of it…..in a totally carefree setting, and he is blown away by their love and generosity and attention to detail just as much as you are. Also, the rarity of totally carefree times, because it takes so much more finagling and juggling of schedules and children and budgets and responsibilities than it did before – which makes it all the more precious. There’s so much more to leave behind, both figuratively and literally, yet they found a way to do so. You have to be that much more intentional about being in the moment, and creating the momentum of energy and fun it takes to pull off a festive experience.
And what an experience. They thought of everything. At some point, late into our day while we were at our last stop (a fabulous little place in Hye, which is not quite ready or totally open for business, yet arrangements were made for them to open for us and do a private catered tasting/dinner), the sweet young staff member/waitress making our drinks and chatting with us (and I don’t label her as sweet solely because her reaction to my status as birthday girl was, “You don’t look a day over 32!”), leaned in to me and said, “Y’all are so fun! I mean, I have good friends, and I think they’re fun, but your friends……wow.” I, of course agreed. And then she said the best thing, “And they really love you.”
Yes, they do. They really, really do. It showed in every element of our time together. Truth be known, it shows in every element of our friendship. It shows when Brenda’s hubby skips a marathon to join us (this is possibly a sign of End Times), then tells me “it was totally worth it” with a hug. It shows when Shanie’s parents send us birthday money, even though gift enough was them driving six hours to come keep kids so the party could leave town. It shows when Steph and Shayne coach precious Aaron to tell us “Happy Birthday!”, and he does so over and over at random intervals. It shows when Mel and Darrin are all in, even though their wedding is next weekend and they have a kazillion things to take care of. It shows when the amazing Kat leaves her beloved store (and gives presents from it), even though it’s holiday retail season.
How can I possibly stay sad in the presence of such love? The answer is I can’t, of course.
Because forty is just another number. And while well-meaning people keep telling me “it’s the new thirty”, it’s not. Thank goodness. I have no desire to do my thirties over again. That decade was a serious learning experience. It brought me to where I am today. And where I am is pretty sweet.
I’m basically comfortable in my own skin. I may wish it was a bit firmer. I may wish things were a bit smaller or perkier or less grey……but then again, I’ve earned every scar, every stretch mark, every line on my face and body. Some I earned growing and birthing babies. Some I earned ignoring the need for sunscreen or consistent exercise. Nevertheless, the only way to remain perfectly preserved is to stay still and protected….or to spend more time and money on the effort than I’m willing or able to do right now. I reserve the right to change my mind on that one at any time.
I’m confident in my career. I’ve spent fifteen years treating children with special needs and their families. I love it. It’s my sweet spot, for sure, and I can’t imagine another career path that would have been half as rewarding for me. Do I want to write more? Absolutely. Would I like to speak at more events? Of course I would. Would I enjoy a less hectic schedule? Sure. Will any of that happen? I have no idea. But, lately, I’ve decided that’s okay, too. The chance to change and grow and start something new is filling me less with a sense of frustration and more with a sense of anticipation these days. I’ve got time, God willing.
I’m joyful in my role(s) in life. Being a wife and mother are the epitome of my existence – they are my favorite and most overwhelming titles. I am undone by the honor it is to be both. Being a daughter keeps me connected to my childhood and upbringing, which helps my sense of self and identity – thank God for amazing parents. I get to be a friend, a sister, a cousin, a mentor, a student…. I get to redefine myself if I so choose. Because I’m here – still breathing, still growing, still learning, still living, as opposed to merely existing.
I’m hopeful about the future. There’s still so much to do and see and discover. Every time I think things might get stagnant or boring or mundane, something happens to show me just the opposite – sometimes this is a good thing, other times not so much. Regardless, the ebb and flow of life goes on. My kids keep getting more interesting and amazing – I can’t wait to see all the phenomenal things they are going to do and be. I fall more in love with Gregg every day. We have running jokes about the idiosyncrasies and oddities we’ll continue to develop as we age – Heaven help us.
Our friends reminded me this weekend of a very important truth, one I need to continue to hold onto even as I kick and scream my way over the hill. There is life to be lived here, and it’s a blessing to have another year under my belt. There is life to be loved here, and I do….I really do. There are memories to be made, jokes to be shared and tears to be cried. There are people to meet and impact, some we may not ever see again, others are permanent fixtures in our lives. There are words to write, songs to sing and prayers to lift. There are days to come in which our wisdom will be needed, and younger generations to inspire as we go before them. The ride is far from over. And I, for one, am ever so grateful for that.
This may or may not prevent me from staying in my pajamas all day tomorrow as I wallow and eat ice cream.
I’m still a work in progress, you know.
Solidarity, sisters. We’re still the life of the party.