Monthly Archives: December 2012

What I’m Into – December 2012 Edition

christmas tree

While we were at my parents’ house this week for Christmas Pt. 3, my Uncle Lee (who wrote this great book on pastoral care) gave me an apt metaphor for the Christmas season:

It’s like when you get to work, and you have way too much stuff to carry, but you don’t want to make two trips. So you grab it all: your briefcase and your coffee cup and your laptop and your books and your papers, and stuff is literally falling out of your arms as you walk, but you keep going because you have to get it all in the door.

And Christmas is kind of like that. She has to carry too much. Too much food and too much family and too many parties and last minute Target stops and late nights wrapping. Too many movies and activities and red-and-green-sprinkled sugar cookies. It’s all falling out of her arms, but she keeps going, trying to get from Point A to Point B, holding all of it.

That’s kind of how it’s been for me this year.

Yesterday we drove home from a whirlwind 3 1/2 days with my family in Chicago, celebrating Christmas and spending precious moments with one another. But after our mid-trip lunch stop somewhere in Wisconsin, the DVD player quit and the crying and whining started, and I was officially over Christmas.

When we walked in the door, I set about unpacking us and de-Christmasing the house, beginning with the dead, deathtrap of a Christmas tree in the corner.

Things I’ve Been Reading

I had great intentions this month of reading slowly and reflectively through all of my Advent books while doing brilliant free-writes based on Messy Canvas’ advent windows.

As it turned, my mornings by the Christmas tree were short and often interrupted by wakeful children. I read haphazardly through my favorite Advent poetry book, Luci Shaw’s Accompanied by Angels. But really, what helped me to focus my heart this month was the words I read from other bloggers about the season.

There were so many. I didn’t have a chance to jot down everything that spoke to me, but here are a few posts that I’ll be printing out for future Advent readings:

  • Micha Boyett’s “Light Your Candles Quietly” series, particularly Volume 3 where she wrote about “Defiantly Demanding Redemption“: I think about how desperately we’re all frantically searching for a place. We need place to rest, a place to grieve. We need a place to celebrate, to wonder, to create. We all need a place. And sometimes we need to make to space in the midst of the hopeless option we’ve been dealt. 
  • DL Mayfield (who, in a thrilling turn of events, ended up moving to Minneapolis this year and instantly became a dear, real-life friend) wrote about “Waiting for Advent“: It is not all hot cocoa and marshmallows, gift-guides, warm fuzzies over here. It’s another season of getting by. But I feel the wait, this year. I have the space the feel the bleak midwinter, and I am grateful. It has given me the clarity about Christmas I have long wished for. 
  • Ed Cyzewski’s post “Advent: Jesus Tried to Warn Us” went up shortly before the Newtown tragedy, and I found myself thinking about his words here often during that hard weekend after: Mary didn’t have ice packs or ibuprofen. Mary didn’t have a nurse to check on her. No one from La Leche dropped by to help with breast feeding. It was probably a terribly difficult night. Joyful no doubt, but a joy mixed with pain, fear, and sadness. 
  • Holly Grantham wrote about love and imperfection here, which has been a theme of my Christmas too: I didn’t put up a fight. I let love win this one…And now my sweet, little house shimmers with color and beauty and glory and I had absolutely nothing to do with it.

I finished John Green’s Looking for Alaska, which was, admittedly, not my favorite of his books. I put all of my other half-finished November books aside and immediately started Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection, which I planned to give to a friend for Christmas but stole for myself instead.

It’s blowing my mind with lines like this: “Until we can receive with an open heart, we are never really giving with an open heart. When we attach judgment to receiving help, we knowingly or unknowingly attach judgment to giving help.” Yes.

I also finished The Paris Wife, which I started listening to on one of my summer trips to Chicago and hadn’t finished…because there’s just no space in my non-road-trip life for listening to books on tape. I finished it on the Illinois tollway, and it was excellent. It’s about Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley, and the years they spent in Paris.

While at home, I borrowed a copy of The Sun Also Rises from my Dad’s bookshelf because it was written during the time Hemingway was married to Hadley and based on real-life events. I also borrowed a biography of Zelda Fitzgerald, since The Paris Wife piqued my curiosity about the old Paris gang.

(I made a sad discovery upon reviewing my 2012 Reading List: Only 19 books read! A sad number indeed. One of my goals for the new year is to be more intentional about finishing books and double that number in 2013.)

My December Soundtrack

Let’s be honest, it was entirely Christmas music. One of the surprising free finds on Noisetrade was a band called Branches. I’d never heard of them before but downloaded their Christmas album and loved their take on classic carols.

My Christmas 2012 playlist also included “Angels We Have Heard on High” from Sufjan Stevens’ new Christmas album, a few from Sleeping at Last, and a haunting version of “Auld Lang Syne” by Kim Edwards.

(Note: All of this music can be found free on Noisetrade!)

What I’ve Been Watching

With most of my TV shows on hiatus and no Netflix to give me sappy new Christmas movies, I was a little at a loss. Our family watched every kids’ Christmas movie possible, and Andrew and I did Love Actually and The Family Man. I was also pleased to see Zach Morris from Saved by the Bell on a Hulu freebie, 12 Dates of Christmas.

During my various crafting/wrapping/cooking endeavors, I got out my old Veronica Mars DVDs and worked through Season 1. After all, what says Christmas like a snarky girl detective, solving high school mysteries? Also, I had forgotten that Schmidt of New Girl fame cameos as Veronica’s brief love interest, Leo the cop. True story. Awesome.

My One Christmas Craft

Back at the beginning of a month, I swore off projects that included “tutorials.” But about midway through the month, I decided to make some play dessert food for my kids out of felt. They both love to play kitchen now, and the felt projects looked simple and cheap.

I am now addicted to making food out of felt. So easy! So fun! So much puffy paint! Here’s a little subset of my creation. (They were Liam’s favorite Christmas present…until my Mom gave him a rideable Thomas Tank Engine. But they’re still pretty awesome.)

felt dessert

liam playing with felt food

Top 5 Moments of the Month

1. The great snowstorm. This is possibly the only snowstorm I will be happy to see this winter, as at the beginning of December, it still all smacks of Christmas magic.

12.9 blizzard

2. A weekend spent with my two close friends from high school. Now that one of them lives in London and I have two wild kids at home, this is becoming more and more rare, so I treasure the times that we get to be together in real life.

3. Taking the kids to see Santa. Every year, our local Culver’s has a Santa Claus come on Tuesday nights from 5:30-7, and we’ve always made an event out of it. We go. We eat. We visit the Big Guy. This year, neither of my kids cried, which was a first. Also, Dane got his hand painted for the first time. It was all kinds of Christmas magic.

kids with santa

4. Family Christmas Tradition Redux. Nothing is the same now that there are kids around, but I love the way traditions have grown and changed to absorb them. The lefse at my parents’ house; the warm-baked appetizers at my in-laws; the gifts and the closeness. It is wild and chaotic and wonderful.

5. Dane’s new bike. My family all chipped into get Dane one of those awesome new two-wheeler bikes with no pedals. Supposedly, it helps the kid learn to balance and then he never needs to do training wheels. I will never forget Dane opening that package, screaming, “My bike! My bike! You gave me my bike!”

Also This Month:

Liam took a spill while we were delivering cookies and gashed open his forehead. (Those of you who’ve followed the blog for a while might recall that this has happened once before and that the first time almost killed me.)

Two was the magic number. 2 stitches (bringing his yearly total to 7.) 2 times that the doctor said darn under his breath while stitching together my kid. 2 times that I almost punched said doctor right in the nose.

liam open mouth

On the Blog

At the beginning of the month, my babysitter quit and I had to reassess my December, thinking about my words and The Word. I posted at Deeper Story about all of those ratty Christmas cliches and at Everyday Awe about If the Angel Should Come.

You all amazed me with your fabulous evangelical Christmas memories in the comments section of my Merry Little Evangelical Christmas quiz.

We made space for sadness in Christmas Miracle and in my friend Carra’s brilliant guest post on the Paradox of Advent. And then I told you about our entirely ordinary Christmas here.

It’s been a full month. A full year. Today I will clean the house and think about what the new year holds.

What about you? What have you been into this month?

(Linking up as always with the brilliant HopefulLeigh, who I got to meet in person last week! For the record, she’s just as wonderful as you imagined.)

addie zierman and leigh kramer

Ordinary Christmas

We make the lefse on the 23rd for our little family Christmas. Andrew rolls it out at the kitchen counter, and Dane stands next to him, rolling too. In my growing up years, it was part of a symbolically simple meal that we ate slowly by candlelight on Christmas Eve. A special kind of Christmas communion.

christmas 12 - lefse

At 3 ½ years and 20 months respectively, Dane and Liam are the world’s pickiest eaters. Dane looks at me skeptically while I roll up a piece of lefse for him and then shakes his head. Liam shouts and swats it away. So I get up, cut peanut butter sandwiches into Christmas trees with a cookie cutter.

The children’s Bible tells the story, but Andrew mostly just shows the picture and summarizes it while Dane looks on, mouth full of peanut butter bread. The Advent candles are all lit, and if I’m honest, I don’t really have a single clue what each one is meant to symbolize, only that Christmas is coming, coming, come, and here we are gathered around it.

I think my oven is on a slant because the ill-promised “birthday cake for Jesus” comes out crooked. I slather the whole leaning thing with chocolate frosting and red and green M&Ms, and Dane sings “Come on Ring Those Bells!” and then wants to do “Happy Birthday” too. So we sit around the table, singing happy birthday over the lopsided cake to a God who is here with us.

christmas 12 - table

In our families growing up, gifts were always opened on Christmas Eve, so tonight on our faux family Christmas, we sing some songs and then pass out presents. Suddenly it’s a flurry of wrapping paper and excitement.

We stay up late, playing and talking and assembling that special zoo toy, and Dane is running circles around the living room yelling, Thank you for my presents and Liam is eating the paper. When it’s finally time for bed, there is an hour of overtired, over-sugared sobbing.

On Christmas Eve morning, there is the flurry of packing the suitcases and the car for the hour drive to my in-law’s farm, and the boys fight over the new toys, and the kitchen is a disaster. And I think that Christmas during the pre-school years is full of small, bright blasts of Total Undeniable Magic…followed by long stretches of normal, everyday life. Tantrums and fights and overdue naps and packing and cleaning and tears.

christmas 12 - crying

At the 4:00 Christmas Even services at my in-laws’ country church, our family takes up an entire row, and I ply Liam with granola bars and muted Curious George clips on my phone. But two songs in, he is flinging himself on the floor, and there is no choice but to take him out.

In the empty nursery, he climbs up the slide, and outside the window, the sun dips into the snow-covered field. I can make out the vague sounds of Christmas carols from the sanctuary. It is heart-stoppingly holy and at the same time hopelessly normal, and I am caught between the two in the no-man’s land of motherhood.

In the rocking chair in the nursery, I grab at the fraying edges of those songs and try to sing quietly and reverently along. But then Dane is escorted into the nursery by Andrew. Apparently, he’s been doing summersaults down the church aisle.

*

At my in-law’s farm, it is bacon-wrapped sausages and that bread with the green onions and foam bullets exploding from Nerf guns. The presents are unwrapped and the new trucks make a variety of annoying sounds and there is the oohing and laughter and we have to take a break at seven because Liam is in a ball on the floor crying and needs to go to bed.

Our dog gets into the bacon grease – twice – and pukes on the carpet. We fill a garbage bag with the paper and eat more Christmas cookies and thank each other again. The remote control helicopter hovers noisily in the air and the old Nintendo comes out, a mess of cords and 80s sounds.

At 9:30, I carry Dane up to bed, and we lie nose to nose on top of his sleeping bag while his wonder-filled eyes fall shut.

christmas 12 - toys

And sometimes it’s ordinary chaos, and you don’t even get a single second to catch your breath and listen for angels. Maybe that beautiful, symbolic thing you planned is not front-and-center but an imperfect side note. You light the candles quickly. You leave your lefse half-eaten to make another peanut butter Christmas tree sandwich.

Life keeps moving, and sometimes your best-laid plans for silence and remembering crumble. You feel like you’re missing it maybe: the holy moment, the star-lit recognition, the faint sound of angels.

But the baby is here; the manger is full; God has dropped into the world in the most ordinary way. And the truth of Emmanuel is that every moment is holy, every chaotic ordinary second. The kids are crumbling or laughing, the kitchen is stacked with dishes, the whole thing is a loud, wild mess, and he is here too, God with us, whether we feel it or not.

*

On Christmas morning, Liam wakes at 4:20 screaming and won’t go back to sleep. We sit by the lit Christmas tree and watch Diego on NickJr. And it is impossibly, frustratingly ordinary – him with his sippy cup of juice, me with the exhaustion. The morning is dark around us, and it could be any morning at all.

Except that it’s not. It’s Christmas morning: the beginning of a new ordinary – God with us. He is born again, born one more time, the Light beneath each average moment, making the whole world glow from within.

*

Thanks to everyone who participated in the Merry Little Evangelical Christmas quiz. It was so much fun to hear all of those memories. If I could give a gift card to each and every one of you, I would. But, you know, that would add up. So I’m just going to give two: one to Jenna, who scored a slightly-embarrassing and unparalleled 37 POINTS (wow) , and one to Jon, whose comment, “How many points do you get if you repressed all these memories?” made me laugh out loud. (Look for an email from me soon, you two.) Thanks again!

Paradox at Advent: The Baby, Desire, and the Pain of Waiting {guest post}

Today I’m so excited to host my first ever guest post at the How to Talk Evangelical blog. It started out as an email, written to me by my good friend Carra. But it felt so  powerful and beautifully transcendent that I asked her to consider turning it into a post.

For so many of us, this is a hard advent season. And if it wasn’t before, it is now that Friday has happened and the world is changed again. Whatever you are waiting for this season, whatever losses you face — big or little, overwhelming or understated, loud and echoing or quiet and invisible — this post for you:

mary and jesus stained glass window

I’ve always loved this time of year. The cold that fogs your breath and leaves your nose rosy. The lights that shine against the dark of night. The eggnog to wash down yet another “what-the-heck-it’s-Christmas” cookie. The smell of fresh pine and cinnamon and the mysteriously labeled “Christmas” scented candles. The cozy sound of classic Christmas songs and the comfy feel of family traditions and the giddy expectation of giving and receiving.

Christmas is here, bringing good cheer…

But this year, it’s different.

This year I find myself avoiding the very hustle and bustle I usually throw myself head-first into. Up until a few days ago, I could blame the lack of snow. And maybe the whiffs of family holiday drama.

But, if I’m honest about it, deep down it’s hard for me to get excited about celebrating the birth of a baby.

*

During the requisite three minutes, every second lengthened into an eternity. The tick of the clock echoed in our small bathroom. The familiar warmth of anticipation tingled in my belly as I tried keep to my eyes focused on the green rugs, the cluttered shelves. Anywhere but the pink wrapper on the sink.

I tried not to think about whose eyes he’d have or whose sense of humor she’d inherit or the excited phone calls to our parents. About how maybe, maybe, this time would be different. That one little symbol would finally redeem the tears and pain and doubt.

I waited until four minutes crawled by, just to be sure.

The home pregnancy test read negative.

Again.

Again again again again again again again again.

With established ceremony, I threw it in the trash, covered it with Kleenex. Buried my hope. Again.

Oh tidings of comfort and joy…

*

This entire season has felt like a paradox. The source of my hope is a Baby; the source of my grief is a baby.

A swaddling newborn, red-skinned and squinty-eyed, has become a symbol to me that means both death and life. It’s crazy that the weight of hope, and the weight of loss, can be cradled in my mind’s arms. And in their lightness, they’re almost too heavy. In their solidness, they’re so fragile. In their sameness, they cut so deeply.

I’m learning that hope can be painful.

Because to celebrate the Baby of this season is to celebrate a hope I don’t always feel. To celebrate this Baby feels like I am celebrating the betrayal of a desire. A betrayal that feels like death. A death I still hope to avoid.

But in the end, the Baby dies. And we celebrate that death, too. Because in that Death is Life. More Life that we can imagine.

Which gives me pause.

In my mind, I know that, in what feels so sharply like a death, life is waiting to be born. I know that in the unrealized dreams and the unfulfilled desires, there are a thousand amazing things God can do.

But my heart isn’t ready for those Truths yet. Isn’t ready to move on from the mourning. Is still clinging to hope.

Which, really, is the point of Advent.

Advent is liminal space. Sacred space. A threshold of waiting, not knowing what’s next. The place where transformation takes place. It’s the waiting between the promise and the power. A wait that looks, smells, tastes, feels, and sounds like death. And yet that death is so weak that its hold breaks at the first cry of a newborn babe. And so we celebrate.

Fall on your knees…

But right now, everything feels so heavy, so connected and mixed up in each other. And I think I am beginning to understand a deeper, truer meaning of wait. And trust. And hope.

And we are all mixed up in all of it. With the Baby, with desire, with death and life and wait. And I’m learning that it’s okay to not force the happiness and cheer. To let others deck the halls and wish merry Christmases and do the caroling.

To approach the empty manger with nothing but empty hands and an empty heart and wait, trust, hope, for them all to be filled.

Christmas Miracle

When an angel
snapped the old thin threads of speech
with an untimely birth announcement,
slit the seemly cloth of an even more blessed
event with shears of miracle…
– Luci Shaw, “…for who can endure the day of his coming,”
from her advent poetry book Accompanied by Angels

star of bethlehem

I admit that I am part of the problem. If there’s a sappy Christmas movie on network TV, I’m going to be watching it. I have a startlingly large collection of them sitting on the shelf in the basement, and at this time of year, under the glowing Christmas tree, my body craves half-truths about “Christmas miracles” like it craves sweets.

I want to watch as towns band together to decorate and unlikely strangers fall in love. I want some cranky shmuck to discover the spirit of Christmas, this vague ethereal thing that somehow transforms him into his best self. I want candles and romance and mistletoe. I want the boy and the girl to kiss at the end, for that kiss to set the whole world right again.

I’ll turn a blind eye to bad plots and worse dialogue as long as there’s a happy ending. A work-obsessed PR agent forced to confront her past, present and future by the ghost of a party girl client? Yes please. Melissa Joan Hart as a desperate waitress who kidnaps Mario Lopez and brings him to her family Christmas? Um, why not?

It is December. I am eating sugar cookies for breakfast and watching all the movies. The Christmas music loops on the radio and I am absently singing along, wanting so much to believe that it’s the most wonderful time of the year. I want the world strung with lights, wrapped in cellophane, hazy with Magic Snow and so many little Christmas miracles.

*

This year, it’s dark and heavy, Christmas sunk-deep in the worst of reality. I don’t have to tell you that. You’re still reeling too, I’m sure, from the footage. The photos. The faces of all of those children and their teachers. The gash the whole thing left in all of us.

Last weekend, before it all happened, my Mama Friend watched the coroner drive past her house first thing in the morning and pick up her neighbor – the kind man who walked his dog through the back of their shared yards four times a day.

Last weekend, whatever small spark of life that rendered my pregnancy test positive slipped away during the fifth week, and I felt it fall like a star from my body.

The second Advent candle burns on the kitchen table, representing either love or peace (depending on who you ask), while somewhere across the country both are crushed in one incomprehensible moment.

I sat in a coffee shop on Saturday night with the fake fire lit and Frank Sinatra crooning about Christmas, and outside, an ambulance flew down the road, flashing, wailing, and I was so aware of it. The uncertainty. The possibility of more death. The reality that sometimes you don’t get a “Christmas miracle.”

Maybe the husband leaves. Maybe you turn to wake him and he is gone and you have to call the coroner on the second Saturday of Christmas. Maybe the pregnancy dissolves or never happens at all. Maybe you, who want love so desperately, do not get a handsome stranger and an unlikely romance. Just more loneliness.

And what do you do when the angels do not come? When that old Christmas magic is not enough? What happens when a gunman comes and your world shatters like dropped glass during the most wonderful time of the year?

*

I keep thinking about Luci Shaw’s phrase: shears of miracle. The cold metal, the glint of it, the violent nature of cutting. I am oddly comforted by the language in the poem: a miracle as a sharp thing. A sword, a knife, a snapping of threads.

Because God this world is dark. And the rosy whorls of romance in the sappy Christmas movies can’t penetrate it. And the cheery songs can’t change it, and from now on, our troubles won’t actually be far away. Life keeps happening even though it’s Christmas, even though we’d like it to just stop for a few lousy moment so we can lie under the Christmas tree with our precious babies and look up at the light.

This year, I don’t need a golden, haloed baby and his beatific mother posed neatly in a lit manger. I need the sharp reality of it. I need Love to come bold and defiant and wild. I need it to be strong enough and bright enough to cut through this dark.

I need shepherds to show up with their mud-caked fingernails and their dusty feet because this is not just about a baby, it’s about a rebellion. It’s about Light come to shatter this darkness, to cut the evil that binds hearts. It’s Love stronger than hate, stronger than that which is broken inside of us.

I need  the blood and the pain of a lonely, helpless birth. I need the dirt and the shit and the wide-eyed fear and the star above the whole messy thing, the only assurance that God is still in this. That even though it doesn’t look like it at all, the promise is coming true.

It is cutting through the darkness now. Miracle. It is sharp enough and strong enough, and it will change the world entirely.

^
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