Wednesday, December 25, 2013

when Christmas makes you stressed out and crazy (and the God who still comes, anyway)


The air is cool for Australia in late December, the rain falls gently on skylights, my three next-of-kin sleep in a darkened room together with white noise lullaby.  It's Christmas, this morning we opened some gifts with Nana and Papa visiting from Canada, had a late breakfast and the over-sugared children needed a sleep to make it through the rest of the day.  So did their dad.

It's been a difficult few weeks for me, with nothing and nobody to blame.  I had high hopes for December, for Advent, for the memories we would create and the traditions we would begin with our toddlers, but only a few of them happened and were definitely not "pinnable".  (My homemade advent calender was pretty much the worst - I couldn't wait for the last paper to be torn off so I could throw it in the bin today - Merry Christmas!)  I appreciated D.L. Mayfield's writing this week on what is actually sustainable at Christmas time, and for me the trouble hasn't been financial; my expectations on myself are what I can't keep up with.  I didn't "do" nearly what I had hoped to accomplish and I still ended up a crying, stressed out, less than festive mess on too many occasions in the past few weeks.  If you don't believe me, just ask my husband.  Seriously, ask him - he could probably use some support.

The few things that have felt deeply meaningful had very little to do with me at all.  I saw some friends give anonymously and generously to some other friends of mine whom they had never met; inviting someone to our home for Christmas who didn't come but hopefully at least felt cared for and included; enjoying the hospitality of others, having meals in homes or sharing drinks outside while children play barefoot.

The line in the carol 'O Holy Night' has been rolling around in my heart for the past few days.  "Long lay the world in sin and error pining, til He appeared, and the soul felt it's worth."  I've spent so much of this month (and maybe my whole life) trying to prove my worth, and mostly just to myself.  Do I deserve to be a friend to circles of beautiful people, a mama to bright and crazy kids, a wife to the gentlest man?  I try to answer this question by packing my days fuller than I can handle, full of such good things and people I want to be with, it's not the doing that's the problem, it's the questions my heart is asking, the things that I don't believe true about my most secret self. 

It's not in our doing that our souls will feel their deepest sense of worth - it's in His Coming.  And like I wrote two years ago, very pregnant but not ready for our new baby to arrive yet, I feel it now.  "God came because it was time.  Not because we were ready, but because we were in need.  The beauty of Advent is in God's willingness to come to us, not our readiness for Him to come."

The kitchen doesn't have to tidy, nor the Christmas cards in the mail (or even on your mind).  Maybe you just shouted at your children or your spouse, or cried over an oven full of burnt baking; the gifts might be few or hurried, loved ones too far away, exhaustion holding you hostage for a good, long time.  You might feel disappointed with yourself.  It's okay.  Advent isn't about us preparing beautifully, lighting candles or creating the perfect family memories.  It's about recognizing our deep, deep need for a God who still comes, anyway.

As much as I despise all of this seasonal stress I've experienced this month, maybe it's been good for me.  Maybe not feeling like I measured up is exactly where I need to be.



Merry Christmas.  May your soul today feel it's worth, no matter what.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

things are messy, we are loved


 
Theotokos, from House for All Sinners & Saints


I live in the kind of place where you get to know your neighbours, maybe you do too.  They remind your kids to wear hats outside and gift them their first cricket set, you chat while hanging laundry in the Australian sun, or you overhear a (sometimes very loud) dispute. We live in an interesting place and our neighbourhood isn't just the people who live next door or around the corner.  There's also the people who come in and out of our street, often in need of cash or desperate for some kind of fix.  I've written before about how honest my neighburhood is about the power of addictions.

Sometimes I want to meet people, like other moms at the park who become your really dear friends over a couple of years; sometimes I don't want to meet people, like the men coming in and out of our neighbourhood for a drink or to watch topless women dance.  But my kids don't know any better, they don't know how I quietly classify people - my son asks men their names as we walk past a pub; I try to smile nicely while also slightly glaring at them.  I'm working on it, but it's still a reflex, that smile/glare.  I wish I could see like my kids do, like they know how the world is meant to be.

They have fallen in love with this one lady who is at the corner every day, they give cuddles and kisses, my daughter says her name all the time, even when waking from a nap as if maybe she has just been with her in a dream.   I used to be scared of her boyfriend until we started to chat regularly - their relationship is complicated and they are trying to care for each other despite themselves, and aren't we all limited in our capacity to love and be loved?  I was scared of him until I met his kids, until he introduced us as his friends.  

I just finished "Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint" by Nadia Bolz-Weber, a tattoo covered Lutheran pastor who lived in bondage to her own addictions for many years after leaving her childhood, fundamentalist church.  Her use of coarse language is plentiful (just a warning in case you were planning to gift it the book to a great aunt or something) and her understanding of life as continual death and resurrection has opened up my eyes.  Rather than be ashamed of ourselves, we can trust in a God who delights to scoop us up from our graves over and over again.  She writes freely of her own failings and need for resurrection, how God requires nothing of us in order to be loved.

I can be so ashamed of myself sometimes, I fall back into my grave and just want to stay there, want to let myself be covered over by disappointment, tiredness, hopelessness.  Rather than ask for help I'd choose to stay buried until I can slowly collect the will power to dig myself out.  But there's no self-digging required; God is proud to have dirt under His fingernails, unfatigued by another rescue, overjoyed by a child in Her arms.  My friend was telling me recently about a difficult situation she's in, "I'm a troubled person, but I don't need this."  And she's right.  If only I could take on that same language for myself, when I'm laying in my grave again: I'm a troubled person, but I don't need this.  I don't need to stay here, ashamed in my grave.

What if I can start to truly see other people as God's beloved, hear it sung loud over their heads, louder than anything else that has ever been spoken over them.  Imagine how I will think and feel about my neighbours then, not even judging their potential, but just believing who they already are at the center of it all.  My longing this Advent season, like Nadia Bolz-Weber, is for my heart of stone to (again and again and again) become a heart of flesh.

Things are messy in our neighbourhood and Lord knows they are sketchy sometimes, but it's a place filled with God's beloved children and it's still a beautiful day.
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