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First blog post

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As I am bumbling through this blog design process, I realize that this is no different than virtually every other area of my life: it’s not exactly how I planned it, I’m realizing half way through that I don’t really know what I’m doing,  I’m feeling out of my depth (but not too embarrassed to admit it), I’m wondering how everyone else does it and seems to make it look so effortless, and I’m thankful that people are kind enough to encourage me along the way. Technology is not always my friend, but WORDS are! And since I am nothing if not verbose, unmarried, and the parent of a male child who cannot possibly receive all the words I have to share, I am very grateful for this venue which allows me to share them with anyone who is interested. God bless you!

Beauty from Disaster

I made a pilgrimage to Mount Saint Helens with my son, recently. It’s an easy day trip from where we live; I don’t know why we haven’t done it sooner. It was a perfect summer day in late July, a gorgeous drive, wildflowers in bloom, a blazing blue sky and a ring of white, puffy clouds hovering over the rim of the crater like a saintly halo. As we were repeatedly shown the dramatic before and after photos of the mountain pre-eruption and post-eruption side by side, my son asked me an odd question: “Which do you like better?” I shrugged and said, “It’s beautiful both ways.” But he pressed me. “No! Which do you like better?” and he stopped and waited. I searched for a truthful and thoughtful answer and said, “The way it is now. Because it’s the mountain I know and love. I was there in Vancouver when it happened and it was one of the most awesome things I’ve ever experienced in my life. It changed me. So, I like it better the way it is now.”

On the drive down out of the mountains I saw, tucked into the trees on the side of the road in the beautiful forests that line the mountainsides, what I wasn’t able to see on the way up: signs that read “Planted in 1983”, and “Planted in 1986”. I pointed them out to my son, reminding him that that was just three and six years after the devastation of the eruption. “Look at all the growth! Look how gorgeous these trees are!” And all the way down out of the mountains I kept thinking about his question: which do you like better?

It called to mind another time in my life when I felt like I was shaken to the core, blasted away, stripped bare and taken down to the bare essence of who I was apart from any construct of society; no marriage, no career, no status of any kind. Simply me and my willingness to open myself up to God’s call upon my life and my basic ability to connect with the world around me. I remember singing the lyrics of a Switchfoot song while driving in my car: “This is your life. Are you who you want to be?” And shouting the answer to myself: YES! Yes, I was the person I wanted to be! And yes, I am the person I want to be, now, even while showing the obvious damage left behind from the disasters of my life.

How many of us look at our dearly loved ones who show the damage of their own physical and emotional disasters and say, “Yes, I know how painful they were. I see the scars they left behind, but they made you the person you are, and I LOVE that person! And, they brought you to me, and I will not even imagine my life without you.

Perhaps my son’s question wasn’t so odd, for him. He has often asked me a series of “Do you ever wish…?” questions about my life. Do you ever wish you were married? Do you ever wish you would have finished college? Do you ever wish I was… different? Which leads to a deep, if brief, spiritual discussion: “Then, I wouldn’t be me, you wouldn’t be you, and we wouldn’t be a family. And, you know this, but I’ll keep telling you: apart from Jesus’ finished work on the cross, you are the best thing that has ever happened to me!”

You, like me, may have had some considerable disasters in your life. Failed relationships, career setbacks, chronic illnesses or sudden, tragic losses.  Some may be your own decisions, some were completely out of your control, and you came away from the destruction looking, feeling and acting NOTHING like you did before. Allow me to ask you: Which YOU do you like better? I have asked and answered that question at several times in my life. I didn’t enjoy the process, but those disasters have made me who I am, and I wouldn’t go back to the person I was before. Do I want to stay this way? Heck no! There’s always room for more growth, more healing, and good company along the way.

~Love is Risk, and there is growth in the blast zone!

 

 

Growth Happens

Parents, have you had those feelings of foreboding, when your child spent the previous month eating everything in your house, and mooching food everywhere you went, as if you hadn’t fed them in a week? Then spent the current month, sleeping twelve hours at a stretch, napping at inopportune and embarrassing (for you) times and they were so hard to get out of bed in the morning you thought you were going to have to hire a marching band to parade through their room each morning at 6:30? You know what’s coming don’t you? When they come out of their room with their arms full of clothes, pretty much ALL of their clothes. What’s this? Hey! Come back here! What’s going on? “They don’t fit.” What do you mean they don’t fit? All of them?! “What part of, ‘they don’t fit’ don’t you understand! Yes, all of them. Oh, and, I’m gonna need new clothes.” Or, when a person of adult stature, looking oddly like your child, is standing just out of your field of vision and you turn your head in horror only to discover: IT IS YOUR CHILD!!!  AGGHH!

Growth happens. And it’s a good thing! It means we are nurturing our children and their bodies are doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing. The problem is, the visible, measurable, physical growth doesn’t always come with the emotional growth and maturity attached to it. That size 12 shoe on a 12 year old isn’t necessarily accompanied by a new level of reasoning or self-awareness. It’s just big feet and expensive shoes.

But then, sometimes, that other kind of growth happens. It’s so much more subtle. You might miss it if you’re not paying attention. I have been trying really hard to pay attention.

This recent growth spurt started the day he walked past me on the way to the bathroom and said oh-so-casually, “I’m going to take a shower.” Just like that. No reminding, nagging or ultimatums. Just, I’m going to take a shower – and he did. Then, he asked me to remind him to brush his teeth, and a few weeks later (while brushing his teeth) told me I suck at reminding him to brush his teeth. Then, he began walking out of his room with dirty dishes, and bringing them to the kitchen! Then, there was the time when he did a load of laundry before he ran out of clean clothes because there was a certain shirt he wanted to wear the next day. And, you’re going to want to read this: last night, he said these words at the age of 13, “Mom, grab the trash from the kitchen and hand it to me and I’ll get the can out to the street.” (I had completely forgotten it was trash night!) Yesterday, we opened a bank account for him because he’s been working and earning money… but not spending it.

Most importantly is that he is able to own up to his mistakes, sincerely apologize and move forward quickly in a positive way. Maybe you should read that last sentence again. I did. It’s truly inspirational. Not because I wrote it, but because it’s an area we all probably need growth in, am I right? I do. Or, how about this one: to have a solidly formed opinion about a current trend or event that is completely opposite to what all of his closest friends and peers are thinking and saying. Was I capable of that at age 13? I doubt it. Are most adults capable of that in our culture right now? I doubt it.

Don’t get me wrong, we’re still slogging through the yuck of adolescence one day, sometimes one hour, at a time. Sometimes I feel like we haven’t made any progress at all. Last night we had a good yell over bed time. Yep. That’s been going on since he was three. A decade of bedtime battles. Still doing it. I’m pretty sure I’ll be calling him at 11:30 when he’s 30 and telling him to go to bed. (Wait, my mother still does that to me….) But along with the pencil marks on my bedroom door frame, we are inching forward, sometimes leaping forward. I can see it if I pay attention. Growth happens.

 

~ Love Is Risk

 

 

Learning How to Rest

I have recently had a lot of free time. I mean ‘recently’ as in, within the last month, all of a sudden, unexpectedly. I lost my job. It was earth-shattering. It was devastating. It was terrifying. It was… a blessing? I am trying to view it as such; and learning how to REST.

I have worked full time nearly my entire adult life, and been single for most of that time. And since I adopted my son as the only parent, I am the only provider for our family. So, certainly, for the past decade, changing my tax filing status from ‘single’ to ‘head of household’ has certainly kicked my already responsible nature into hyper-drive. Toss a mortgage and a few animals to feed into that mix and let’s just say I take WORK very seriously. Which may be why I’ve stayed in jobs that made me miserable at times, why I’ve worked for less pay than I could have made elsewhere, put up with a lot of pettiness, and even taken abuse from employers and co-workers. A job is a job is a job. And what I really wanted to do was to focus on my child and raise him the best I could, come home to my tiny house and be content with our modest lifestyle, and make a difference in my community and in the world, as God provided opportunities.

Don’t get me wrong; I have always found satisfaction in my toil! Learning, growing, challenges, PEOPLE, always people, both co-workers and the public that gave me the confirmation that I could be used by God in any and every vocation as long as I was willing. My life, my home, my time, my money was shared freely. And then….

Then came a time when grief, world-weariness and finally, sheer exhaustion began to set in. I lost my father, saw my mother transitioned out of our family home, went through four job changes in one year, was dealing with my son’s challenges on my own, and I hadn’t had a real vacation in, well, I can’t count how many years. I was living on five or six hours of sleep a night, eating way too much fast food, and some days never saw daylight. I was doing it! I was SO doing it! I was doing what I had to do to be a responsible adult, a dependable employee, and the best parent I could be, but, for the first time in my life I began to ask myself, “How long can I keep this up? Is this life I’m living sustainable? How long before something gives and I start falling apart?”

Funny how God often answers those difficult, rhetorical questions in an unexpected way, isn’t it? Thunder clap! After the first panic stricken week of phone calls, doctors appointments (before medical insurance runs out), filing for benefits, re-working the budget, applying for twenty jobs and feeling like my whole life had been destroyed in one heartless blow, I realized, suddenly, I’ve got all the time in the world to rest. But, it’s not that easy.

I have to LEARN to rest. I have to re-train my body that it’s OK to go back to sleep after five hours and sleep two more hours. I need to make myself read something other than click-bait, something with paper pages, and even for an hour at a time! I need to have conversations with God in which I’m not the only one talking. That requires listening, and listening requires silence. (That’s a hard one.) I have to not only read, but meditate on God’s Word. Sometimes that requires a nap. Naps are good. Very good. Especially when the kitten wants to nap with me. I have found, in order to rest, I have to make a daily effort to forgive those who have wronged me. Sometimes more than once a day. Not only is that a burden I don’t want to carry around with me, God commands me to forgive – and He’s really, really serious about it. I need to rest in being home alone and not be ashamed that I am ‘that’ pet owner who has too many conversations with her animals and takes her dog on two walks a day; once because a friend came over and a second time because he ‘asked me so sweetly’.

I have learned that sometimes resting is working hard and getting dirty doing projects in my yard. Sometimes it’s making lists of things I’ve needed to do for years and now, finally, having the time to do them. That can be very restful. (And some days, choosing NOT to do them and go for a walk with a friend, instead.) Sometimes rest is having loved ones sitting around my table with me after having a whole afternoon to prepare a meal. (Oh, yeah! I forgot. I like to cook!) Rest is sitting on my back porch and watching the sun go down and listening to the day go to to sleep and the night come awake.

Most of all, rest has been learning new ways to love my son with acts of service; BECAUSE I CAN! What a joy! Cook your favorite food three days in a row? If you say so! Drive you across town to buy that video game you’ve wanted forever? Let’s go, now! Your friends want to come over for a fire in the fire pit? I’ve got marshmallows! You want me to watch that movie with you? I’ve got time right now. You’re tired and cranky and you want me to toss food into your room and shut the door? OK, I can do that. BUT I’M RIGHT OUT HERE IF YOU NEED ME!!!

There’s still about a hundred times a day that I am overcome with worry; how am I going to support my family? How am I going to pay the bills? Am I EVER going to get a job?! And my tendency is to feverishly take all that responsibility on myself. If I just apply for more jobs. If I just cut back our budget even more. If I just…. learn how to rest. God made it happen. He must think I need it. I better enjoy it while I can.

Oh, and, as it turns out, plenty of sleep, lots of fresh air and sunshine, a little exercise, Mom’s home cooked meals, and absolutely no fast food – does a body good! We have never been so healthy! Go figure.

~ Love is Risk, and life is hard work. Learn to rest while you can.

Celebrating Less than Perfect

Spring is the season of celebrating children in the United States. Graduations, sports trophies, scholarships, achievement awards, recitals, concerts. Schedules are packed with events; our kids, nieces and nephews, grandchildren, our friends’ kids, if we’re blessed enough to have friends like that. Social media is plastered with photos and proclamations of all those outstanding accomplishments; parents sharing their love and pride for their children, as well they should. Excellent grades, excellent performances,  excellent achievements – they are all worth celebrating and sharing. As your family member or friend, I am celebrating with you. And learning to celebrate… less than perfect.

I’d like to post a tribute to all of the children who didn’t quite achieve excellence this year, at least in any quantifiable, measurable, social media-worthy way. In fact, maybe they labored, struggled, barely made it, or even failed. Maybe for each step forward it felt like they took a step back. Or, they had to work twice as hard just to reach milestones that their peers have passed by months ago.  Maybe you struggled together toward goals that turned out to be unreachable, or maybe you felt like your child fought you every step of the way as you used every resource you had to try to help them. Or, maybe they are simply normal, non-attention seeking, happy to fly under the radar kind of personalities living in the shadow of larger than life siblings or friends. Do you love them just as much as those over-achievers? Of course you do! In fact, I’ll bet you have a special soft-spot in your heart and a fierce protective instinct when it comes to them, because you know they struggle, you know they don’t receive all the affirmations and accolades that those other kids do. Their hard-won accomplishments go largely unnoticed; no F’s on this term’s report card! or, you made it through the school year without getting suspended! or, you made a friend, a real friend! or, you are managing yourself and your stuff more responsibly every day! or, you are a kind and decent person and the world needs more of those!

Every parent has a fantasy about their child becoming someone amazing, someone incredible, someone larger than life. It is our greatest desire that our children would surpass us, in every way possible, isn’t it? Because we love them and we want… more for them. But often we are faced with the reality of a child with limitations and challenges – whether they are mental, physical, emotional or psychological, they are facing the world as damaged and flawed human beings no matter how hard we have tried to give them every help, encouragement and advantage that we can. Here’s a news flash for you: SO ARE WE! We, too, are all damaged and flawed, and doing the best we can. Some of us make it look better than others, but we all have our issues. It’s how we cope with our issues, how we deal with our challenges and how we reach out to others who are damaged and flawed that makes a difference in our world.

The end of this school year for us did not come with any awards; not for academics or sports or achievement of any measurable kind. But we made it. Together. And we’re still talking to each other. And, on the rare occasion, at 13 years of age, when we have a serious conversation about politics or social injustice or a life-altering event I am astonished with his depth of thought, his maturity and his kind-heartedness! There is no grade, no certificate, no trophy. Just me, knowing that he really is that beautiful person I have always believed him to be.

Feel free to join me in celebrating less than perfect! Plaster the social media venue of your choice with photos and narratives of those precious, unique and wonderful people who teach us every day: how to survive, how to persevere, how to overcome, and how to make the world a better place.

 

~Love is Risk, and they are worth it!

 

On the Eve of 52

It’s 11:03 on the eve before I turn 52 years of age and I am taking inventory of things I have learned this past year and in life thus far. Turns out, it’s a lot less than I thought it would be by this age. I have more questions than answers, more doubts than affirmations and I am far less likely to give, and take, advice than I was at an earlier age. Here’s a few things I know for sure:

My body isn’t what it used to be, and it lets me know in strange and not-so-wonderful ways all the time now, “Nope. Not going to happen. You might have been able to do that before, but, not now.” I’ve recently discovered I cannot sit cross-legged on the floor anymore; my right hip has decided it does not wish to participate in assuming that simple position. I don’t know how or when that happened, but, it has.

The pets that I took on reluctantly, under intense pressure from my son, have become my ‘creature comforts’. I’m secretly certain that I love and enjoy them much more than he does. I am the primary care-giver, after all. I began my life as an animal lover and I am circling back around to that. I will always have animals and am compiling a list of critters that I wish to add to my menagerie. I asked my mother for a miniature donkey for my birthday this year. She thought I was kidding. I wasn’t.

I used to think that the fact that my son would be going through puberty at the same time I would be going through menopause was some sort of cruel cosmic joke. But, now, I think it’s probably just as well that we deal with our hormonal upheaval together, commiserate as best we can, and move on. If we survive, we’ll be the stronger for it. If we crash and burn, we’ll go down together.

There is no time of day or night that is ‘too early’ or ‘too late’ for a nap. For a single, working mom who operates on 5-6 hours of sleep per night, and a growing boy, when the opportunity for extra sleep presents itself, WE TAKE IT!

I think this surprised me this year more than anything; help and comfort may come from very unexpected sources. Although I’ve been disappointed by friends and acquaintances, I’ve been blessed by new friends and brothers and sisters in Christ who have stood in the gap and provided for us in tangible ways that are invaluable: transportation, meals, mentoring, and unwavering love and encouragement. There are those who say, “You should….” and, “Have you tried…?” and there are those who say, “I’ll be there.” or, “I’m on my way.” or,  “I can do that for you.” or,  they just show up with a bag of groceries, or hot soup and biscuits. I joke about it, but I kinda mean it: food is one of my love languages.

Through the din of some challenging and chaotic times, through my own faltering faith and lack of faithfulness, God has been speaking to me, in the last month so consistently, that the message is undeniable. It is so simple it’s humbling because I must be that desperate to need it concentrated to a single phrase: God is LOVE. That’s it. That’s all. It’s ridiculous, right? But, apparently, my battered, weary soul needed that message more than any other right now. My choir recently sang an arrangement of Psalm 103, and the words have been ringing in my ears for a month; I will bless the Lord, who redeems, who restores, who forgives every sin, who renews your youth. Who at age 52 doesn’t need a little youth renewed? Am I expecting my body to feel youthful again? No. But I am hopefully expecting a youthful renewal of faith in a God whose very essence is LOVE, and whose end game, no matter how bad we manage to mess it up in the meantime, is to set all things right again. That means our broken world, our broken lives and our broken hearts. In moments of intense stress, lately, this has been my meditation.

One last thing I have learned, and some of you may be shocked, but some of you may find this incredibly liberating: it really doesn’t matter if you mix your darks and lights in your laundry. I’ve been doing it for years and nothing bad has ever happened. You’re welcome.

~ God Is LOVE!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Kids and Pets Wreck Your Life… But in a Good Way

I remember an evening when I hosted a dinner party for my boss and my co-workers. The menu was carefully planned; one of the guests was vegan, so I had to be creative. The table was beautifully set ahead of time, with matching dinnerware. My house was spotless and cozy with candles flickering and carefully selected music playing softly in the background. As we sat around the table, my boss, who was known to be quite the dragon lady said with a smile, “Your home is just as I’d expected; a place for everything and everything in its place.” I could not have been more pleased.

Yeah, that was B.C.  Before Child. No one would ever make a comment like that about my home now. And dinner parties? Well, they are more a, “Grab a bowl from the counter, serve yourself some soup from the crock pot and sit where ever you want.” kind of fare. None of my dishes match, I no longer have open flames anywhere in the house, music just ads to the din, and now I rarely sit while I have company. I hop out of my chair every three minutes to manage my surly teenager, my hyper and overly friendly dog, and the sassy kitten who thinks she owns the joint. Everything is most decidedly not in its place, even if it had a place. Which is why there is always a pile of papers, pictures and clothes behind my bedroom door and if I get tired of tripping over something long enough, it goes down to the murky depths of the cellar, where I can trip over it every time I do laundry. The 768 square foot house that was juuuust right for single me when I bought it, is a little more of a challenge to contain two humans, a 62 pound canine, an indoor feline, a leopard gecko, and all our stuff. The once oatmeal colored berber carpet intermittently has a pattern; what I like to call ‘Muddy Dog Paw’ print. The kitten has little friends she plays with; she finds them under the furniture and behind the TV; they’re called dust bunnies. My car looks (and sometimes smells) like a college dorm room. And my yard? Well, let me just say this: I recently purchased a bale of straw to spread over the back ‘lawn’ to combat the mud when it’s wet, and dust when it’s dry. That’s one battle I have lost completely.

My sister reminds me that, for much of this, it’s a season; dirty floors, a muddy yard and a messy car – par for the course when raising kids and animals. The child will eventually grow up and move out, and the animals won’t live forever, and order will be restored. But part of me knows, my life has been wrecked forever, but in a good way.

I married young and was divorced and single again after six years. I did not come to alone-ness easily and had never been on my own as I had gone from my parents home to being a wife. I spent the first many years desperately working at filling my life with as many people, activities, and obligations as I could so as to be alone as little as possible. After I found my footing I began to enjoy my independence and freedom and became much more comfortable. Too comfortable. It’s not as if I didn’t have any challenges in my life, in fact, I sought them out: travel, missions, ministry, vocations, home ownership. But it was on my own terms and at my own pace and within a reasonable budget.

When my desire to be a parent out-weighed the prudence of waiting for a spouse, I made the decision to adopt on my own. This wasn’t a second-best option for parenthood for me. I had always wanted to adopt, even while I was married. Of course, making the decision to adopt and having that dream come to fruition… well, let’s just say that the seven years it took for that to happen gave me a lot of time to imagine, think and dream about how parenting would change my life. Yeah. I had NO IDEA. Nobody does. And boy, howdy! he was a challenging kid if you ever met one. And just about the time the child started to turn a corner into, “Whew, I feel like things are almost getting easier!” We got a dog. Same thing. I had no idea. (It was a downhill slope from there to getting a kitten….)

About now, you may have decided that I have lost my mind, and, you may be right. However, if you are considering being a parent, or want to begin with the starter kit of puppy or kitten, or, if you are just in the midst of the mess like me, and have a few minutes between shuttling your kid around and have the dog barking at the back door and the kitten climbing up your pant leg, here is my point: YOU ARE NOT IN CONTROL OF YOUR LIFE. You are not now, never have been, nor will you ever be. Having children and animals will make sure you will never forget this truth. These ‘creatures’ grow and change and move on to the next developmental level so quickly, whether you are ready or not. And they drag you along with them. You learn things you never would have learned, meet people you never would have met, go places you never would have gone. You learn to LET THINGS GO that aren’t important and embrace things that are important and live in the moment, because they clamor for your attention and don’t take No for an answer. Most importantly, they teach you to love deeply, tenderly and selflessly. They don’t fill you up, emotionally, they empty you completely so you are forced to find what stuff you are truly made of, who your friends really are, and in Whom your faith lies.

At the end of my life, for what do I want to be remembered? You could eat off of her floors, they were so clean, and her yard was the envy of the neighborhood. Or: She was a rescuer of lives, human and animal, and when I spilled coffee on her couch, she said, “That’s why I chose brown, because it’s the color of coffee and chocolate.”

If you are finding yourself at a comfortable place… a little too comfortable, kids and pets are a great way to make your ‘perfect’ home and life a little less comfortable, a lot less perfect and much more… honest. You are not in control of your life, but you can allow your life to be wrecked, in a good way.

 

~ Love is Risk, and messy

When Christmas isn’t Merry

I’m about to make a statement that may initiate hate mail and get me kicked out of several social circles, so brace yourselves: Christmas – not my favorite season. I’ll go farther than that – I, for the most part, intensely dislike (I generally avoid using the word ‘hate’) Christmas music. For a person of the Christian faith and a musician, not absolutely LOVING Christmas and LOVING Christmas music is, well, sacrilegious.  Even though I sing in choir, and have nearly every year of my adult life, beyond a few ancient and sacred classics, I can barely tolerate Christmas music and avoid it whenever I can. And as for the entirety of the Christmas season, I am, at best ambivalent.

Please let me explain. I grew up in a home that had every good Christmas tradition in place: family, church, food, decorations, gifts, and yes, even music. It was all good and I loved it, sharing it with my parents and my siblings. But, my ability to continue to live out my concept of that ideal was cut short by my divorce at a young age and many years living as a single person. There was still family, but it was not a family of my own. Although I never spent a Christmas alone, I did most of the Christmas season alone: shopping, cooking, decorating. While my friends and siblings were taking their children to sit on Santa’s lap, baking cookies with them and going as couples and families to see the lights, I was… not. I had rehearsals and performances and parties that I attended, but I did it on my own. If I were predisposed towards depression, these would have been my darkest days. I functioned. I made the best of it. I did my best to reach out to other single people and people who had no family in town, and I think I enjoyed Christmas day, itself, but it was a concerted effort.

Then, I became a mom, and everything changed, right? Yes, but not in the way you might think. My son had the attention span of a squirrel (and the energy level), and nothing about our Christmases together felt… traditional. It only took a year or two for me to realize that my hopes for at least a couple of family traditions for the two of us, the Nutcracker, the Singing Christmas Tree, driving around to see the lights, even decorating together, would probably ever happen, at least not without some sort of awful scene. The simple task of lighting candles on an Advent wreath he made in Sunday school and reading a short (very short) devotional became more a lesson on fire safety than Advent. There was no baking, there was no shopping (there was me, ordering online at midnight after I’d finally finished the dishes and laundry), and his contribution to decorating was to stand on the lights while I was trying to string them and to break at least one of my favorite ornaments each season. It seemed everyone else was able to achieve at least some version of their Rockwell-esque scene during the holiday season while I felt like I was, if not faking it, then, putting on one heck of a brave face.

Then came the coldest, darkest, saddest holiday season of all; last Thanksgiving day which ended with my father in the ER, in ICU for two weeks, never to return to his home, moving my parents to a retirement home in December, my dad gravely ill during Christmas and by January, he had passed away. It was the coldest winter with the most ice and snow in many years, I had just started a new job so I had no paid time off and was navigating treacherous roads in the dark, to and from work, to and from the hospital, to and from my folks. I spent those months in a haze of grief and worry, barely able to eat and sleep. I just had to make sure that my parents were cared for, my child was cared for, and I didn’t forget to buy toilet paper and dog food. I honestly thought that was going to be the year we didn’t have a tree up or any decorations. I just couldn’t muster the energy. At some point, someone gave us a pre-lit tree and I told my son who was home alone during Christmas break, if you want a tree, you’re going to have to put it up yourself. And he did, bless his heart.

OK, so, there have been some amazing and unique experiences, like when I had a Japanese friend stay over Christmas eve and come with me to my parents’ on Christmas day because she had no one with whom to celebrate Christmas. She was the only Christian in her family; all the rest were Buddhist. She was full of joy and gratitude, just to GET to celebrate Christmas. One year, I flew to Spokane on Christmas day to visit my sister and her family and it was snowing so hard they had to circle the plane till they could plow the runway. The flight attendants made everyone on the plane sing Christmas carols till it was safe to land. Then, there was the year we call our Kosher Christmas. My parents, who have traveled to Israel countless times, met and befriended a group of young people from Israel who were selling beauty products from the Dead Sea in a kiosk in the mall. “Wouldn’t you like to see what it’s like to celebrate Christmas in a traditional American home? Well come on over!” The catch? A couple of them had Jewish dietary restrictions. No problem! Kosher Christmas dinner it is! And the one year I let my 10 year old stay up really late so we could attend a midnight mass with a friend, who sneaked away from her sleeping family to come pick us up. None of us are Catholic, we just had always wanted to see what a midnight mass was all about. All memorable, but, not exactly Christmas card-worthy.

Christmas just isn’t always merry. Sometimes, it’s downright dysfunctional. Sometimes there is grieving to be done, and sometimes, I’m just slogging through life, doing the best I can. Even when things are going well, I find it to be exhausting and disillusioning. With jam-packed work schedules, school schedules and social calendars, who has time to ENJOY Christmas? But if I close my eyes really tight, clamp my hands over my ears, I can see, hear and feel it in my own way. I hear angelic boys’ choirs in great cathedrals, “Gloria in excelsis Deo!”, mysterious Gregorian chants in stone monasteries, “Veni, Veni Emmanuel”, guitars in country churches with broken pipe organs, playing Stille Nacht, and the very sweetest tenor notes ever written, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people”. I can see a rocky hillside in Bethlehem, the ground of which I’ve walked with my own feet. I see a manger carved out of stone used as a cradle. A baby crying. Of course he cried. He never held back his emotions as an adult; why would he as an infant? I feel the tension of nations perched precariously on the brink of war, people longing for something bigger than themselves, bigger than everyone and everything else that has disappointed and failed them, to hope in.

O ye beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
Oh rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.
For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophets seen of old,
When with the ever-circling years
Shall come the time foretold,
When the new heaven and earth shall own
The Prince of Peace, their King,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Christmas doesn’t have to be merry. But it does have hope.

 

~Love is Risk