Adventy Advent

It has been an exceptionally Adventy Advent.  Full of darkness that I couldn’t quite explain….  full of grasping and digging in with my finger nails for any shread of light.

I’m not even sure how to tell you about it, though I have tried to several times.

It was as if I just found myself in a room where the lights went off…  like someone had forgotten to pay the power bill and the past due notices weren’t getting through in the mail and suddenly with a click and a buzz and then a stillness, the darkness arrived and I yelped out loud at it’s totality.

The thing is, there should have been more light this year.  We are at the tail end of a deployment….  As people have been reminding me since before he left, “How wonderful that he will be home for Christmas!”

An Advent of waiting has been made very tangile.  My girls and I have been straining forward in this act of waiting for months now and we are about to realize the delight of the appearance of our beloved.

That’s a metaphor that’ll preach, no?

And yet…  the darkness has engulfed me.  Flat knocked the wind out of me.  Is it the fatigue of simply being on deployment number 5?  Is it the darkness that surely the whole world is feeling with the attacks around the world-Paris, Beirut, San Bernadino?  Is it the darkness of Bigotry that potential leaders are now spewing quite vocally and visibly instead of in dark corners?

Is it biochemical?   The short, grey PNW days have caught up to me again?

Or muscle memory from other dark Advents…  the year of the miscarriage…  the Christmases when we didn’t have him home…  the year of the tumor…  the year of learning to live without my Mom.

I don’t know.

My friend, Lia, posted a blog this week that had a paragraph that hit home so hard I choked on it.

Every year I think now this year, this is the year I finally *get* Advent. The sadness, the waiting, the longing for all things to be made new. And every year I do understand it a little bit better. This does not show any sign of stopping.”

It doesn’t show any sign of stopping….  it seems to be something that is inside of me this time of year and I can do nothing but let it in to do a work in me.

I vacilate between embracing it and rebelling against it.

There are moments when I have exhaled in deep relief when I realized that it was advent…  As I’ve written before, Advent gets the darkness.  “O Come, O Come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.”  “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.”

If there is a time in the church calendar for the darkness  and the light that follows to be allowed in to do it’s work, it is this one

But in the face of fighting for the emotions that I want to have–namely relief, excitement, joy at my husband’s impending return I have also been deeply discouraged by the darkness.  Discouraged and distressed.

I have felt shattered.  shipwrecked.

And panicked honestly.

I offer no answers here…  I haven’t found the end of this darkness, though I hope that some of it will lift when I find myself in the arms of my husband again.

I only know that in this season the darkness is acknowledged and expressed and invited in to do some myserious furniture moving in our souls….

And this is so because light is coming.  “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world…”

I can invite the darkness in and hand it a snack and a blanket because it is working something out in me….  something that will be redeemed in a shaft of light, and an unexpectedely small form.

It will not get the final word.

This year, as in every year, the light will overcome the darkness…

I will hold tight to that here as I wait for the lights to come back on.

 

 

 

 

Why I love Christmas

I love Christmas….  but not for the normal reasons.

It’s not because of the music or the warm feeling or that everyone is kind to each other.  It’s not the giving or the charity or the good will that we have toward fellow-man at this time of year that gets me.  It’s not the cheeriness or the warm smells or even the time with family.  And it’s not even JUST the wonder of the nativity and the Christmas story.  The thought of Jesus as a baby brings wonder…  but there’s still something more to it for me.

I love Christmas for this reason that feels almost backward.

I love Christmas because Christmas doesn’t hide from darkness.  I love it because I don’t have to be happy to get it.  I love it because my heart doesn’t have to feel a single “Holly Jolly” in order to participate in the drama and the magic of the season.  I love Christmas because it is a time in which the parts of me that are most dark can be named and because time and time again in a beautiful God-ordained love song, God has shown me that a light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.

Here is a truth of Christmas–it GETS the darkness.  It doesn’t shy away from the darkness…  Even in the movie versions.  How many Christmas stories involve some of the darkest circumstances?  And still somehow hope triumphs.  How many Christmas songs are sung in a minor key and still somehow the sound resonates within us?

Christmas gets the darkness…  (And so therefore, so must GOD!)  It stares it down hard.  Somehow it’s in that darkness–the completeness of it, the deep and dazzling quality of it–that we are able to understand the miracle of the light.

My church is focusing on the first 18 verses of John for Advent.

In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made.  Without him nothing was made that had been made.  In him was light and that light was the light of all men.  The light shines in the darkness but the darkness has not understood it….

The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.  In the darkness of separation from the one that I love.  In the darkness of the loss of my mom and being with my husband’s family to gather as his grandfather slipped away–Andrew in Iraq…  That  Christmas season was so dark it was almost palpable.  In the darkness of the aftermath of a miscarriage:  the songs about how “A baby changes everything,” and the endless repetition of the words ‘newborn’ and ‘infant’ and ‘babe’ as I was coming to terms with the reality that the babe I had wanted would never be.  In the uncertainty of a new year facing a surgery and an uncertain disease.  Christmas and the Christ of Christmas embraced these darknesses and allowed me to name them.  I felt them deep unto my bones.

And somehow in each of those times and in each of those places the light pierced through.  Sometimes in pinpricks and sometimes with flood lights.  Somehow I was sustained and thrown a lifeline of hope.  The light shone in the darkness and the darkness did not understand it and the darkness did not overcome it.

It happens each and every year.  It is part of the divine drama of Christmas.  In it is some of the best of the good news of the gospel.  The darkness will not overcome the light.  Not for any of us.  We may think it’s been completely snuffed out.  We may think the light has been hermetically sealed out and still somehow there will be a spark that will hit the wick of a candle and the light will seep through and the light will overcome.

The life that was the light of all men has been let out.  In the dark of the night there was a mewling cry and it’s now grown into abundant life.

Christmas GETS the darkness.  It stares it full in the face.  And in subtle, gentle ways or in dramatic flourishing ways, the light of God overcomes.

And THIS.  THIS is why I love Christmas.

The Ornament

My Mom gave me this ornament back in High School.  It was a porcelain(ish) white Angel, holding a basketful of stars.  Shortly after she gave it to me and we put it on the tree, I read Madeleine L’Engle’s A Ring of Endless Light in which the protagonist, Vicki, grapples with light and darkness and life and death.  I was going through my first real dose of the same struggle, and both the book and the ornament became a tangible symbol for me signifying that like Vicki, I was charged to choose light, and to bear light.  Since we’ve been married that ornament has gone at the top of our tree as a reminder to me.  After Mom died it took on even greater significance. 

This December has been a dark one.  December 2 I started bleeding and I soon discovered I was having a miscarriage.  The baby was planned for and wanted and hoped for.  I took 9 pregnancy tests (the last 4 of them had lines, the first two faint, the last two more solid).  The miscarriage happened very early before anyone but us even knew I was pregnant.  It was, unquestionably a blow.  Since then my heart has felt hollow.  The Christmas Season which I love even at the darkest times has seemed only a cruel reminder of what I had hoped for and prayed for and wanted.  I’ve always loved Advent because it meant the whole church was pregnant in anticipation of the Christ Child.  Obviously that metaphor is a painful one this year. 

I have held tenaciously to my conviction that Christmas is about a light in the darkness.  I’ve spent time each day covering myself with that thought.  I reread A Ring of Endless Light.  I accepted the charge anew.  I looked at the ornament each time I passed the tree and remembered what it meant even as I struggled against the darkness and the sadness. 

So when an exuberant game of tag tipped over the Christmas tree, and I heard the shattering of glass, and we righted the tree and I saw the white fragments of angel all over my floor, I was a devastated all over again.  It wasn’t just that the ornament was special.  It wasn’t just that my Mom gave it to me.  It was that this symbol of light in the darkness was shattered at a time when I was fighting with everything in me to hold onto that light. 

And then I saw the gift in what happened:  My husband swept up the fragments, and knelt down and painstakingly sifted through the glass to find the pieces of the angel.  He’s swept it into a bag.  Tonight he plans to pick up some Super Glue and try to piece it back together. 

This is the new picture I have to cling to.  In his loving actions my husband showed me Christ.  I am shattered.  The light seems shattered.  The joy and the hope of the season are like shards of glass on my dining room floor.  But Christ is kneeling down, sifting through the sharp, tiny pieces, and putting me back together.  Broken China is stronger when it’s mended.  Light seeps through cracks.  There is light in this darkness.  And I’ve been given the grace to see it. 

This is my Christmas.

Corn Starch, Beer, and Vacuums, Oh My–Oh and Merry Christmas Eve Eve

No, this isn’t a tale of Christmas baking gone horribly wrong.

It’s been an interesting morning here at our house

I was on the phone with a friend catching up and feeling very badly that in the wake of our hard drive getting fried I had forgotten to call or send an email or a note of any kind to thank her for the beautiful centerpiece she’s sent us for Christmas.

The girls had been noisily pushing babies around in laundry baskets–with LOTS of sound effects, I think perhaps they were airplanes–so I was happy when they relocated to their rooms and were happily and quietly playing.  Yes, I said quietly.

You see where this is going, right?

So Carolyn comes out looking extraordinarily sheepish and saying, “We did something silly, Mama!”  A close inspection reveals that she’s liberally sprinkled with white powder.  So I high-tail it back to their bedroom to see that the Abber-doo is COMPLETELY covered  in white powder, and it’s sprinkled ALL OVER their bedroom.

Cornstarch. 

Last night, Abbie had had a monster diaper rash so to clear it up I’d sprinkled her liberally with the moisture protecting powder.  I got distracted with crazy antics during bedtime stories and forgot to take the container (the mostly full container) off of their dresser.

So….  I set out to clean up the white stuff (we were dreaming of a White Christmas, right?).  I got the dust buster and handed it to Carolyn.  Natural consequences dictate that you clean up your own mess, right?  But the dust buster wasn’t going to cut it.  So I got the big vacuum.

Then the large piece of plastic that I’d neglected to pick up got sucked up and a sick,  burned rubber smell permeated throughout the room.  I unplugged the vacuum and inspected the bottom of the machine looking for a slipped belt, and satisfied that it was still in working order, headed out to the kitchen to grab the vacuum attachment to get into the cracks and crevices. 

The girls had been playing with said attachment this morning.  It’s one of their favorite forbidden playthings.  So I had banished the offending tool to the top of the cabinet.  The very tip-top where not even I can reach.   I reached up to the attachment, swung it down and heard a crash…  and fizz-whoosh…  and a splash….  and some drips.

There was an amber colored puddle spreading over the kitchen floor and counter….  and an amber colored splash decorating the ceiling.

I wish I could adequately paint a picture for you of  the things I saw and heard as the bottle careened over the side of the cabinet-tops.  I wish I could explain the confused thought processes in my head as I came to understand the second HUGE mess that I was going to be cleaning.

Beer.  Beer all over me, my kitchen, and my cupboards. 

Husband’s brother works for Anheuser-Busch and sent him a special collector’s item beer still in it’s test packaging.  It’s been sitting on the top of the cupboard for quite some time now.  Or at least since the last time that I needed to get the ‘cool stuff for which we have no place’ tucked away somewhere.  The vacuum attachment in one efficient movement, snagged the bottle and brought it down spilling puddles of beer all over everything.

So I mopped up the big puddles, I vacuumed the rest of the corn starch, I dipped the girls in a bath, and then I stood on the counter and wiped the ceiling clean…  and while I was up there took care of some long-forgotten dust which had accumulated.

In the span of  15 minutes, cornstarch was spread all over my kids’ room, beer sprayed all over my kitchen–even staining my ceiling, and my vacuum nearly bit the dust.  In the span of an hour, I got the messes, and the children cleaned up.  And they say this job isn’t mentally stimulating!

And now I’m sitting here blogging it, watching more snow fall and my girls snuggle as they watch yet another Christmas movie (I needed a break!), and musing that I guess these things really DO happen even when Husband isn’t off playing Navy.   I’m headed to get a  bath to get the beer smell washed off, and I’m wishing you all the Merriest of Merry Christmas Eve Eves.

The Santa Claus Conundrum–My Question for You

Seriously small potatoes in a world such as ours but I’m sitting here this morning, watching Christmas movies with my kiddos, and pondering the Santa Claus Conundrum.

My SIL is firmly AGAINST Santa.  She creates Christmas magic for her kids in ways that don’t involve the Santa stuff, but focus on the magic of Christ coming into the world.  We’ve adopted a lot of what she does…  But I’m resistant to throwing Santa out completely.

Another friend is firmly against Santa on the principle of not wanting to lie to his children.  I get that too.

I’ve heard the argument that teaching about Santa Claus only to have your children find out later that he doesn’t exist sets them up to believe that God isn’t real either.

But as a kid I loved the magic.  I tried to believe as long as I could…  Even after I knew better, I tried to believe.  I still love the magic. I love the history of St. Nicholas (which is what we try to focus on when we talk about Santa at our house).  I love the ways that the St. Nicholas story itself can point to Christ.  I love childlike belief.  I LOVED believing that I had a secret power that grown-ups didn’t, because *I* could belief, and sometimes I wish I still had that secret power (faith like a child, you know?).  I love Miracle on 34th St. and Yes, Virginia There is a Santa Claus.

So my question is–what are your thoughts?  What does your family do?  If you are a believer how do you approach the Santa thing?  If you don’t ascribe to the Christian tradition, what are your thoughts?  Does anybody else try for the middle road?  How do you do it?

Embracing The Muddling

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

The year after Mom died, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” became my holiday theme.  Not surprisingly, as the Holidays draw near again, it’s resurfacing for me.

Husband and I watched The Family Stone last week during a cheap-skate date (dinner and a movie in, free babysitter–gotta love that!).  I’d kind of forgotten that it had the whole ‘terminally ill woman spends Christmas with her family’ theme going on with it.  I’d never seen it before.

I would have been fine with the whole thing if “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” hadn’t been prominently featured in the film.  I really would have.  But there was Judy Garland singing her heart out, crying those beautiful vintage tears and bringing me back to reflect on the Muddling of it all.

“Someday soon we all will be together, if the fates allow….  Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow….”  (I’ve quoted that line here before….  It’s a recurring theme, what can I say?)

I laid there that night, after we watched the movie, after I heard the song that packs such an emotional punch for me and all I could think was how prominent the concept of “muddling” has been to us.  And I cried and bawled and wailed, and poor Husband didn’t know what to do with me.

Muddling.  I feel like my whole marriage with Husband has been muddling.  Not because of Husband of course.  Our marriage has played out against the backdrop of a Navy lifestyle, the death of my mother, five grandparents, and several other significant friends and family members.  We’ve experienced the stress of raisingn two young children while enduring the yo-yoing of separating and coming together again with deployments and detachments.    Maybe it’s because I’m codependent and I like to create my own chaos, or maybe it’s because life has really been bits and pieces of chaos.  I just always feel like we’re muddling.  Just doing what we can to make the best of it.  Trying to embrace the beauty and the mess of it all. 

This year, the mess is me.  It’s us.  The mess is our healing.  The mess is Husband and I trying to reconnect as Husband and wife in the wake of all the previous mudding.  It’s the exhaustion and the frustration and the stress and the joy and the exquisite tenderness and the pure amazement of raising our two beautiful children. 

Muddling feels something akin to just surviving.  And my ideal is to do more than survive, but to really live.

But it occurs to me that maybe muddling IS living.  It is part of living life abundant.  Of feeling the heights of the joy and the depths of the pain.  Of facing the messiness that is you. 

It’s not that all has been joyless.  There has been much joy–exquisite joy.  Discovery, and abundant love, and wonder and amazement.  It’s not that the difficulties we’ve faced have been so extraordinary.  We have a very ordinary set of troubles.  We do.

This Christmas song that I love so much isn’t about muddling.  It’s a song about looking forward with hope despite less than ideal circumstances…  and living fully in the joy of the present in the meantime.   It’s not about having joy because of an absence of muddling, but about holding onto the light of now in the midst of it.

I want to learn to, or remember to, or continue to joyfully embrace my muddling.  I want to continue to look forward with hope…  to days of being together with people that I love, both on this side of Heaven and beyond…  to days of feeling together and not like an unraveling mess…  Days of sinking in solidly to the feel of my husband’s arms around me without a burden of cares and worries and disconnections between us.  In the mess and the muddling in the meantime, I want to grasp the reality of the joy of right now with both hands and hold on tight.

Well…

It’s just been all butterflies and sunshine around here lately, eh?

Hopefully I’ll have some lighter posts coming soon.  (Thinking of a Grey’s Anatomy quote:  “I’ll lighten up when I….  FEEL LIGHT!”)

For now some good news:  The pneumonia has cleared out of one of Gramma’s lungs.  She’s gaining some ground, and this I find encouraging.

Also, Ms. Seraphina is hanging in there post surgery and the doctor mentioned that her heart function appeared better even before they closed. 

And Husband comes home this weekend in time to celebrate our FIFTH anniversary.  Isn’t that cool?