Holidays

Christmas Wishes

Callie wishes that you may always have a place of retreat when things feel too scary.

Milo wishes that you may remember that love is more important than dignity.

Kikaa wishes that you can always have someone you love close by.

And may we all remember to take care of each other.

Tradition and Renewal at Christmas Time

Christmas time is a tradition heavy season. We bring out decorations that only take part in our lives once per year and then are carefully stowed away. When we pull it out again, we are connected with last year and any years before that where these objects took part in our lives.

Christmas is a time of renewal. We are connected with our past selves through the medium of tradition, and then how we interact with those traditions for this year becomes part of who we are in the future. Some years I have let go of long held traditions. Some years something we did meant so much to us that we repeat it the next year and the next. Occasionally traditions can be consciously started and maintained, but often we don’t realize we’ve made a tradition until it pops up again year after year.

This year is one of forging new traditions for my family. Not in a big overhaul-the-holdiay sort of way, but in small things. It is the first year that not all of my children will be sleeping under my roof for Christmas Eve. He’ll join us for celebrations and rejoin us in the morning for more, but in between he wants to be at his own home in his apartment in his own bed. This is the second year when not all my kids share all my religious beliefs. So we feel our way forward trying to honor the holiday as a religious event for some family members, while not forcing religious aspects on others. It worked beautifully last year, so I’m not worried for this year. We’ll find our way forward with love and laughter.

Weeks ago I alerted all the members of our family that I was not going to be the orchestrator of gifts. They had to do their own thinking and planning. And they did. It was such a relief for me to not have to keep a long list of suggestions. I did not have to brainstorm what would be a good gift for this child to give to that child. In truth, that was a role I should have given up long ago, recognizing that one of the best ways to teach someone to be a good and thoughtful gift giver is to let them fail at it a few times.

This morning I went out in the pre-dawn to purchase the food we’ll need for the holiday. While I was out, I went in search of garlands for our new stair railings. We’ve never had railings before this year, now we do. And now we have garlands and a wreath for them. It makes me happy. There is so much work we have planned for our kitchen and front room, but this one portion of our main floor is exactly as we want it to be. It is new, and yet it fits in so smoothly with everything that has gone before that it feels like was already a tradition waiting for us to uncover it.

May your celebratory seasons be full of both tradition and renewal.

New Year Ahead

new-year-aheadI watched Jaws a couple of days ago. I haven’t seen it in years. There were moments when it really had me tense and other moments where I could see exactly how fake the mechanical shark looked. The scene that sticks in my mind is the one with all the people splashing and playing in the water while the music plays its ominous theme. The new year feels a bit like that to me. From this moment I have no way to know if I’m going to get a pair of kids with a shark fin that scared me for no reason, or if there will be blood and guts in the water. I don’t like feeling this way about the coming year.

Instead of focusing on the ominous feeling, I’m instead going to focus on other things. Another story that I read over the holidays was How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I’ve written about this story before, but this year the thing which struck me was the moment when the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes. Before the growth the Grinch could not empathize. He could not love Christmas or the people who loved it. Then his heart grew and suddenly he did love all of the things which had been irritating before.

In order to make the world better, I have to start by expanding my own capacity to love and to enjoy. That starts with paying attention to the people immediately around me. In my neighborhood, my congregation, my kids’ schools. I need to notice who is vulnerable in the places where I spend my days. I must think about what I can do to befriend them, help them feel safe and welcomed. This will be difficult for me because in my day to day life I tend to avoid talking to people unless it is necessary. It takes extra effort for me to chat with a grocery store checker. I need to be willing to be uncomfortable. I need to be willing to speak up and to make phone calls. I need to ignore my financial stresses and make donations to good causes anyway. I need to sacrifice pieces of my day to reach out to others. I need to put people before my schedule. I have to be willing to turn my day upside down to defend others if the system turns against them or they have a bad break. This is the boots-on-the-ground work of changing society.

The fastest way to get a song out of my head is to consciously replace it with a different song, one I won’t mind listening to on repeat. So when I contemplate the new year and I begin to hear the ominous Jaws theme, I will instead sing the tune sung by the Whos down in Whoville, and I will grow my heart however many sizes is necessary to take on 2017.

Merry Christmas

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Church
Breakfast
Stockings
Family
Laughing
Wrapping paper
That one weird present everyone boggles over
The present which is exactly what a person was hoping for
The present that was handmade and tailored to the recipient
The gift that doesn’t work out of the box and will need to be exchanged
The note card which says the present is still en route
Books
Games to play later
Movies to watch
Dinner yet to come
These are some of the pieces from which a Christmas morning is made. Hope yours has some of these and many more.

Love and light to all.

Happy New Year

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I put up the new wall calendar today. The calendar used to be the scheduling hub of the entire household. On it were all the appointments and events. If something needed to be remembered, it went on the calendar. These days most of the appointments never even get written on the wall calendar. They’re hidden away in my electronic calendar where they are far more useful to me. Yet the wall calendar is still useful. I come and look at it any time I need an over all view of the next weeks, months, or year. The kids reference it all the time when they need to count days or find out when the next school holiday is. So I spent an hour putting down the big events and birthdays for the year. Then I pinned it to the wall, moving it over slightly because the old spot had so many pin holes it was hard to get the pin to stick. Some day we’ll use piles of spackle to repair all those holes, but not today.

For now I’ll listen to the booming of the neighbor’s fireworks and glance at them out of my front room window, past the glow of the Christmas lights on our tree out front. The holiday season will soon be over, I should enjoy this last bit of it.
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The Day After Christmas

On the day after Christmas I spend time trying to remember what I was doing before the holiday took over all my available project-focused energy. I also spend time reading and playing a game with my kids. Howard is more focused than I am, he’s back at the drawing table, ready to get the work done. I feel guilt that I’ve not been a better business partner in the past few weeks. I would like to be able to match his creative drive instead of feeling like I’ve been a drag on the entire system.

In just one week we’ll have a new year. I don’t know how I feel about that. I wish that I did. I wish I could have a clear emotion of optimism and excitement, though I suppose I’m glad not to be mired in dread. I guess I feel much as I did last December. Though we’re all in a better place now than we were then. I still can’t see a clear path ahead, but the trail isn’t so dark and we have more maps than we had before.

On the first day of 2015 I said “Maybe at the end of the year I’ll be able to look back and tell a story about how it went.” I find myself as reluctant to formalize that story now as I was to predict it last January. The year was what it needed to be. Some of the hard things were necessary. I suspect that some of them were not. This next year will have hard things in it, but I hope it will have more triumphal moments, times where we stand in a good place disbelieving that we managed to arrive there. I would like one of those for each of my children who have been struggling. Bonus if Howard and I get one as well.

The path to those moments are paved with hard work, so I suppose I should get to it.

Smashed

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It was not the outcome that anyone intended, yet somehow we ended up with shards of something that used to be whole. The shards were sharp, able to do more harm if they were not handled carefully. This is the story of many of my days these past couple of years. It is the story of yesterday when a person came to my house to talk to me about behavioral issues with one of my kids. The person departed and I was left with shards, not even sure where I fit in the metaphor. Am I the broken thing? Or am I the one who has to figure out how to clean up? Feels like both.

I went to my room and cried for a while. Then I talked with my child and we both cried for even longer, because harm has been done and needs to be made right. My child is both harmed and the one at fault. I have to spend energy preventing my mind from trying to analyze all of the moments that led up to the one where things were smashed. As if I could alter the outcome by finding decision points that led to alternate timelines. My mind also tells me that I’m blowing it all out of proportion. It is, after all, only a small broken thing. Clean up will be quick and we’ll move onward.

Except that I end up smashed (or cleaning up after smash) so often lately. Those tiny shards scatter themselves and sometimes I find my self bleeding because of shrapnel from something I thought I cleaned up long ago.

This too is part of the holiday. The house is filled with beauty, but also with things that are more prone to breaking. The pressure to make sure the moments are glowing and meaningful, also means that some of the fragile things will crack. I may be one of the fragile things. I am to be my best self, but that is difficult in a season which increases the demands on my limited resources. Even the articles, speeches, and pleas to simplify are commandments with which I must struggle to comply. Thus I find myself contemplating the shards of an ornament on the floor of the front room. Thinking about all the ways in which Christmas breaks people.

And also the ways that it heals people. And how sometimes things must be broken before they can become something else. And how the metaphor begins to fall apart before I’ve found my way through to an epiphany. I would like to have an epiphany. I would like to have a shining moment where I can clearly see that all the smashed days were necessary, part of a grand plan designed to help me and mine grow. I’m certain that some of them were critical. Perhaps yesterday was one of them. I’m also certain that some of them were just the result of human beings clumsily bumping into each other and accidentally doing harm. It would be nice to be able to see which days were which.

Or maybe it wouldn’t. Maybe I’m better off treating all the smashed up days as if they were important. Maybe it is only in trying to find meaning in the shards of something broken that the brokenness gains any meaning at all. I do believe there is a plan, and it begins with me fetching a broom. We learn by doing, struggling, smashing, cleaning up, and moving on.

Christmas Tree

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It is a Christmas tree like many others. Some Christmas trees are gorgeous, a treat for the eyes, and a thing for admiration. Mine is lovely, but in an ordinary way. If you were to line up my tree with a dozen others, it wouldn’t win any prizes, at least not if the judges were objective. But objectivity isn’t the point of Christmas, neither is competition. My tree is special and beautiful because it is mine, because it adds light to our house, because the mish mash of odd ornaments all have stories, because we’re the ones who haul it out to assemble it each year. I love that my tree doesn’t need to be special for me to love it. Or to put it another way, it is special because I love it. Even if no one but my family can see how special it is.

The Gift of a Cat

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I’ve written about our cat before: how I found her, how we had to give her back, how she chose to come back to us, and how she became ours permanently. She has been ours since 2010 and she adds a lot to our lives. I thought my allergies would mean I could never have a cat live in the house with me. I’m very grateful that this turned out to be false.

Our cat is getting older now. She’s becoming an old lady kitty. Every day we get to have her is a gift, which is why I took the opportunity to photograph her under the tree among other gifts of this season.