Monday, December 29, 2008

Resting in the New Year

Usually during this time of year I do a lot of eating and listening to Christmas music. I gorge myself so that I feel better about making resolutions to lose weight and I don't feel the need to listen to Christmas music again until around the end of September when choirs everywhere crank up the rehearsals for the Christmas program. I usually start working out and work out pretty regularly until Fat Tuesday. Then I give up working out for Lent as I'm focusing my energy on something else more spiritual. Then I pick up working out again with a vengeance so that I am swimsuit ready by Memorial weekend when pools everywhere open for summer. Although I am never completely happy with the results, it's been my M.O. for about oh, 15 years or so.
I don't know what I'll do this year, my gym membership has expired. I wasn't motivated to renew it, as I'm not trying to lose baby weight this year. Sure I'm still gorging myself on what's left of the Christmas goodies--mostly bread, chocolate, red wine, and various other carbs. Workouts take on a whole new meaning with two kids. I'm very busy chasing my son on his new bike and trying to teach the baby to go forward instead of backward in his Cozy Coup (you know the big red car you move with your feet, Flinstone style). And I'm also breaking my arms and back doing laundry and dishes, so that has to count for something doesn't it? You should see my reflexes, I can wipe a nose and catch boogers from across the room. With two very congested boys for Christmas (second year in a row now) I get a lot of practice. And do you lose any calories emailing while you wait for the plumber to come fix your clogged sink and broken garbage disposal?
Christmas has been a whirlwind this year, but we're finally done. My father and his friend came for a few days. My mom was here Christmas Day (when we broke the garbage disposal). We just returned from a week in Steamboat with my husband's family and on the way out we visited my sister and her husband and baby. I realize that's not nearly as much visiting as some people, but for me it was more than enough. The logistics alone would boggle the minds of sergeants in the army.
We attempted to keep the real meaning of Christmas in Christmas this year, but I admit I was defeated more often then not. Lighting the advent candles turned into a "you can blow them out if you use good dinnertime behavior" exercise instead of a spiritual one. We rolled into town about 10:40 on Christmas Eve, plenty of time to make the 11 o'clock service, but the baby who had not slept the entire day on any of the 7 hours of flying time, was asleep in the car. Our older son finally stopped asking if we were there yet and was nodding off, so we rolled right by the church. On Christmas day, we made a birthday cake for Baby Jesus, but my son was more interested in seeing how many inches of sprinkles he could pour on it. By dinnertime he had exhausted my husband's patience so badly that instead of eating the birthday cake for Jesus, the child was sent to his room while the rest of us ate it. Kind of defeated the purpose I suppose, but live and learn. This morning my son asked me if I had written a thank you note to Santa for the presents. I realize this isn't exactly laden with Christian sentiment, but I was surprised it would cross my son's mind to say thank you to another man he can't see but believes in when he can't thank his own grandparents and aunts and uncles in real time. I tell you children just bondoogle the mind.
Anyway, it has been a very lovely Christmas. Mostly low key although busier than I had hoped. I hope you all enjoyed your Christmas as I much as I have. Now it is time to turn my attention to the New Year. It's Christmastide right now. We're still waiting--for Epiphany and the three kings.
I am beginning to see a pattern here in Christianity with waiting. Sorry, momentarily interrupted by "moooommmmmmyyyyyy", where was I?
Waiting. Maybe waiting isn't the right word. gives the following synonyms for wait (verb): anticipate, abide, look for, remain, pause, rest. Hmmm, absolutely none of those words means the same thing, but I like using them in the context of Christian waiting. For example, we anticipate the coming of Christ during Advent, we anticipate his resurrection at Easter, we abide in His love always, we look for ways to be like Him, and we pause during various parts of the Christian calendar to evaluate our life and its course like Lent.
Perhaps the hardest part of waiting, is the resting part. I have a terrible time resting. I am so constantly on the go, I don't know how to rest properly. If you can't rest properly, you can't focus your attention. If you can't focus your attention, how do know how to abide in His love or remain in His care?
I think this resting part of waiting will be my New Year's resolution for 2009. I've worked on living the way of blessedness, prayer, and forgiveness. My journey this year will be a journey of rest. Synonyms for rest include: break, composure, interlude, peace, and respite. How will I do this? I surely don't know, but I will endeavor to pause and look for rest in my waiting until I find it. It may seem like an odd goal considering the season of life I am currently in (crazed wild child tamer). All I know is, you can't find peace racing around filling your calendar. Part of waiting and finding peace is being quiet with yourself. Not only is it hard to find the time, but it's a hard thing to do. I don't particularly like being quiet with myself, but I'm going to do it. If I shut up long enough, maybe I'll tell myself a few things I need to hear.
I wish everyone great success in whatever goal or realization or resolution or change you may be seeking in the coming year. Most of all I wish you rest while you wait and rest while you seek and rest for the sake of rest.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Four Christmases

I went to see the movie, "Four Christmases" on Saturday night. It was cute, fairly predictable, and full of good actors playing not so strong characters. The premise of the movie, a couple who refuse to get married because their past family experiences with marriage are terrible, avoid their families every single Christmas and go somewhere like Tahiti, but tell their families it's mission work of some kind. Hm, why did I never think of that?

If nothing else, this story makes me feel so much better about my own dysfunctional family.
Everybody's family is dysfunctional. Everybody. There is always a crazy aunt, or an obnoxious cousin, or a second wife, a strained relationship between siblings, an ailing grandparent, banished relative, or scary pets to deal with. That's why we all overeat at Christmas, get strung out about buying presents, and end up exhausted by Dec. 26th. If we focused less on the "feel good family moment" BS that tv, movies, and stores were shoveling at us with lightening speed and focused more on our own family unit and the true meaning of Christmas, I think we would enjoy it more.

Over the last 12 years, I've been navigating family Christmases slightly less neurotic than the movie characterizes, but only just. This year, it seems to be easier. Perhaps because I care less, or maybe because I care more. Not sure yet. I guess as we grow older and as our own immediate families become more complete, it is easier to say "not this time, thanks."

Instead of running hither and yon, we're all compromising. My four are headed to see my sister's 3 with our mom on the way out of town to see my husband's fam. It's convenient, it's low key, and it's something I really want to do. It's just me and my sis, and we've been tightrope walking Christmases for a long time now. It will be fun to just hang out and watch our own kids wreck the tree, have tantrums, and break their Christmas gifts while we eat mom's awesome chocolate cake and drink red wine.

We ski every year at Christmas with my husband's family. It's a nice trip for us and our children as well as a visit to see my husband's brother. This year we have a new sister-in-law and her family to mold into the mix. So we will see our my brother-in-law when we see him, knowing full well the responsibility he has this year and we wish him well. It was us once too.

When we come back, my dad is coming here. This is great news as he has only himself to pack and drive, whereas we have 4. He likes to play games and I have a 4 year old who is really into games. I wonder how many rounds of Chutes and Ladders they'll play before dinner?

It's great that we will get a chance to see everyone this year. We've all made the effort to make our little units work together. I don't feel the struggle or the guilt or the anxiety I've felt in years past. Whew what a relief! Now I can actually enjoy my Christmas. It's going to be so exciting!
Hooray for a movie that made me laugh a little at myself. Hooray for a movie that reminded me, my family isn't nearly as screwed up as I thought it was. Hooray for Christmas! Bring it on!

Sunday, December 7, 2008


Advent, waiting. Not something I do particularly well, waiting. I don't wait well in lines. I don't wait well in traffic. I don't wait well at checkouts. I don't wait well on my children. I don't wait well for my husband when he's late. I don't wait. But I do like Advent. In fact, I love it.

Some people consider these days the 25 days of Christmas. I consider it the 24 days of Advent and then the twelve days of Christmas followed by Epiphany. I love getting that Advent calendar in the mail from church as much as my son does. I love putting up the tree on December first. I love adding presents a few at a time under the tree until it's full. I love the spirit of giving that is born of a desire to share and give something special to another person. I love putting out the Nativity. I love Christmas music on the radio. I love Christmas concerts on television. I love to read "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" every single year.

Our church doesn't have just one Christmas concert, or even one Christmas pageant. We have an entire Advent Calendar Season. Four Sundays of Advent, the Family Advent Wreath Making Night, a walk on Nativity Pageant, The Festival of Lessons and Carols (music and verse), a Christmas Play that runs for two weeks in the playhouse, other groups use our sanctuary for Christmas concerts, two Christmas Eve services, a Saturday noon service for those who cannot come on Christmas Sunday and a Christmas celebration Sunday. Then we celebrate Epiphany Sunday and start the season of Epiphany that runs until Lent (more or less).

There is so much hype surrounding Christmas Eve and Christmas day, we often forget to celebrate the whole season. The whole season is about waiting on the Lord Jesus to come and bring new light to our world. He comes to bring peace and joy and hope. He comes to bring a new way of life. The celebration of his birthday is important, but it is his coming and the change that comes for us that is worth celebrating. The miraculous story of how he comes. What his coming meant for so many people at that time and today.

The season of waiting is good training for the season of self-denial that comes after it during Lent. There is so much more to Christmas than that one night in the manger. Granted that night is most special and full of wonder and awe and life. But it is the spirit of that night that carries us through the whole year. It is the spirit of waiting for that inspiration that makes Advent so special.

Some lines from our Festivals and Carols readings that I found particularly evocative this year:

"Amazing have interrupted our routines...with your good news...You have gathered this unlikely assortment of folk to become a transforming community of faith." (Duck, Ruth C. Fresh Winds of the Spirit, 1985, The Pilgrim Press.)
Yes! How much did God get people out of their rut all those many years ago? He gathered the most unlikely group of people--a young Jewish teenager, an upstanding but poor Jewish carpenter who were traveling because of and eventually running from the Romans, a bunch of disreputable shepherds who were too unclean to even come to the gates of the Temple, and three astrologers from foreign lands who together created a faith story that is still with us today.

"Gracious God...dedicate us to prepare your way by lifting up the valleys in our lives and making smooth the rough places of others." (Duck, Ruth C., Tirabassi, Maren C., Ed. Touch Holiness: Resources for Worship, 1990 The Pilgrim Press.)
Yes! Christmas isn't just about me and my waiting. It's about my ability to wait on others. If I hear the true promise of the coming of Jesus, do I not want all of those promises of peace and reconciliation for all people?

"Creator God...may this season inspire us to live in such a way that others will see the Christ in and through us." (Biegert, John E., Pilgrim Prayers for Leading Worship, 2003 The Pilgrim Press.)
Yes! Use me Lord. Let this season of waiting be a season in which I wait on and with others.

"Our heavenly Father, as once again we prepare for Christmas, help us to find time in our busy lives for quiet and thought and prayer." (Colquhoun, Frank. The Book of a Thousand Prayers. Ed. Angela Ashwin. 1996,2002 Zondervan.)
Yes!I, as your hands and feet of the kingdom, need this time to reaffirm your promises. I need this yearly reminder of waiting and wondering to refill my lamp. While I am called to be Martha in this world frequently, help me take time to find the inspiration Mary found in Christ so I will not use it all up at once.

"Eternal God...may your word-made-flesh herald a renewal among us." (not attributed)
Yes! Don't let the Christmas story be the tired, same, old story. God is eternal. This story is eternal. This wonder is eternal. This ultimate salvation and sacrifice that came among us as the least of us, showed us the best in us, and gave us a path to share and give and act and transform the world around us through Him. We use this time of Advent and Christmastide to reflect, renew, and rejoice that God is indeed with us.

So a blessed Advent to you.
Merry Christmas to you.
I hope the New Year holds an Epiphany for you.
In the name of Christ, peace be upon you.