Confession time: I’ve been feeling guilty. We are deeply in the season of advent,which is synonymous for HOPE, and I have been radio silent. Who am I, as a self proclaimed professor of HOPE, to be silent in this celebrated season? And while my writings are not intended to be religious, I can’t deny the spirit that this time brings to each of us.
Advent. Hope. A birth. Light.
Each of the above sits right at the top of my throat in this time, and mostly in the very best way. The Christmas season is sacred to me, as much for the beautiful traditions with which I was raised as for the message of hope in new life. As much as I feel exhausted as an adult trying to produce the magic of the season for my own children, I can’t stop feeling awed by the every day miracles I observe during this time of year. For me, during the season of advent, I have one foot in the spiritual and one foot in the secular craziness.
Saturday, I was deep in a Christmas crater. Near tears, I acknowledged that I had done it again- driven myself crazy trying to produce a magical Christmas. A magical Christmas that includes breathtaking gift surprises, stunningly beautiful decorations, a Christmas card portrait worthy of the royal family and complete, uninterrupted joy for the ENTIRE month of December for everyone I love, especially my children.
When I looked around Saturday morning, I didn’t see magic. I mostly saw misery- starting with my reflection staring back at me. I was exhausted. My children were wholly disinterested in anything I tried to initiate related to the holiday and therefore appeared ungrateful and spoiled. My Christmas list, let’s be honest- my Christmas spreadsheet that is planned with military execution so everything is equal- was a disgrace of cross offs, arrows and x’s. And let’s please not mention the eviscerated budget that went with that plan. My over decorated house felt cluttered and dirty and I had neither the time nor the energy to begin to address that.
Do you feel me, friends? No. Magic. No. Sir.
In case you don’t know me personally, here are two things I can’t overstate enough. One, I was blessed with an amazing upbringing that included magical Christmases. For real, months of December where I would lie in bed with the light of the electric candles in my windows, and seize this Goldilocks feeling of everything “just right”. My beloved Grandparents would visit and hearing them move about in the room next door put me to sleep in the happiest way imaginable. Two, I am so crazy about my sons I really don’t know how to act. To be clear, they drive me MAD on the regular and there have been and will be plenty of blogs about the years they take off my life. But, there was a time I didn’t think I could have children and that I have TWO who are healthy and bright still takes my breath away. More than anything else, I want to give them that Goldilocks feeling.
So unfortunately the Christmas season that I’ve treasured has become a garland around my neck. The lists. The expectations. The ELF- lord of mercy, the ELF!!! All of it taking me further and further away from the meaning of Christmas. The manger. The message. The hope. The most Goldilock thing of all.
Wouldn’t this be a great story if I told you I went to mass Saturday evening, listened to the Word of the Lord and changed my attitude completely? You’re right, it would. And I did go to Mass Saturday evening but my mood remained stressed, tight, unloving.
I have felt, in the first three weeks of Advent, like Mary, riding a donkey, through the night, looking for respite. Yet at each “inn”, reality has spat rejection, just as it did for her. Holy season? Ha! How about sexual misconduct, every day terrorism, natural disasters? Kids with exams, problems at work, all the stuff. I have no intention of comparing myself to the Virgin Mary preparing for the birth of Jesus, but I can feel a kinship to her likely responses in that journey, that might have sounded like, “are you kidding me?” And “Seriously?” And finally, “Is someone filming this because this s--- is bananas!”
But I learned - re-learned- this weekend what Mary was taught and we all must remember. Christmas is lovingly aggressive. Take your “Silent Night” and tuck it away in a precious place- the truth is, the message of Christmas, because it is SO powerful, will find you and grab you and your willingness is not a factor. Maybe the Christmas spirit was found in the legs of the donkey that carried Mary and just kept going until it found “the spot”.
I woke Sunday resigned to another “failed” Christmas (and to be honest the verdict is still out on that) but I was inexplicably scooped up by a donkey and moved to a better place. Within 24 hours, I had the PRIVILEGE of spending time with a boy, who lost his Mom way too young, but asked me to sing the Rudolph song with him. I gave a small gift to someone who sees the world so simply and beautifully and she responded with the best response I’ve ever seen. I sat with a man who is losing his young wife to cancer but told me -with conviction -that he can only feel peace that she will no longer suffer, and he meant it. And then I came home to a rare and special surprise from one of my boys that lifted my heart and renewed my faith in goodness.
I am so blessed that I have the opportunity to be part of each of these experiences. In 24 hours!! I must fiercely guard my heart to ensure that these things never cease to amaze me.
And to be clear, I am still stressed and worried about making a magical Christmas because I am just that hard headed and dumb. But the collection of today’s experiences allowed me to peak at the manger, to look at the place where hope lies and peace rests. It. Was. Awesome. Thank you, Donkey. Thank you, Aggressive Christmas. Thank you for the real life ornaments that adorn the experience of this season.
Friends, Mamas, Peeps- no lectures here. I can mess up Christmas like nobody’s business. I like to think, however, that hope is my calling card. And even when, especially when, it seems invisible, I want you to know -- I am actually begging you to look for-- a donkey waiting to scoop you up for a quick manger peak. Advent is a season of hope. Not a season of magic making. The manger was the most imperfect thing ever and yet it delivered the best gift of all time. When the season of expectations starts to wrap around your neck and choke out tears of undelivered perfection, I give you a barn. With hay. And the real deal of “this isn’t how we expected a King to be born?”
Sit with me in imperfection and honor the manger - and its message of hope- by being present for the real stories of the season.