Have a Real Christmas

Photo Credit: Bert Kaufmann

Photo Credit: Bert Kaufmann

In the last five days, I’ve had a dozen or so conversations with people who are trudging though the season: People who feel like failures in gift giving, phonies at parties and the only person on earth who doesn’t adore the holidays. If you know me very well, you know I am one of them.

But I’m no longer afraid to tell you that because:

1. I know I’m not alone.

2. I have a warm, well-lighted fortress I run to every time I get discouraged. It arrives in a manger tomorrow.

The bottom line is I’m ok with all this and I want you to be too.

What’s interesting about these conversations is, almost universally, nobody feels safe to admit they are lonely or grieving or disappointed or sad. It’s like we know the Hallmark version of Christmas is actually quite fragile, but we want it to exist and nobody wants to be the one to shatter it. So we smile and play along, then berate ourselves for not having a better time.

Beloved. Stop that. He knows. He sees you.

Photo Credit: SnarkyM

Photo Credit: SnarkyM

We know, in the midst of the sparkle, people are lonely and broken and the holidays amplify that. So what I want to say is, it’s ok to be lonely because you’re not married and you’d like to be. It’s ok to miss someone who died and to feel their absence like an ache. It’s ok to be sick about someone who is languishing in jail, or to cry for your family and your dog as you do something hard on the other side of the world.

Jesus sees you and I wonder if it would please him more to see us abandon some, not all, of the pageantry in favor of authentic emotion. Maybe we don’t want to do that because we don’t want to ruin it for the kids, but what better gift can you give your kids than to demonstrate how to manage joy and sorrow at once? That is a courageous gift.

So if Merry Christmas feels like a tall order, maybe have a Real Christmas instead.

Here are three strategies:

1. Don’t wipe the mascara streaks off your face before you walk in a room. When someone asks what the tears mean, tell them. What if they take a deep breath and cry too? What new thing will come into being between you?

2. Chose, right now, as a practice, to notice what is, rather than what is not. In my case: Legs that work. Eyes that see. Music playing. Dogs sleeping. Fire burning. Fuzzy socks. Poinsettias. This is more than just counting your blessings. It is a deliberate practice, one where we choose the object of our focus. As the Apostle Paul says:

Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Phil 4:8

Photo Credit: Darian Wong

Photo Credit: Darian Wong

3. Stop and breathe. Really deep. Low and slow. Match the duration of your inhale to your exhale. Maybe do this in child’s pose, which some people think looks a lot like surrender.

If it helps, imagine a manger in front of you.

Real Christmas everyone.

xoxe

Advertisements

Christmas Crying – A List of Probable Causes.

I drove home from a friend’s last night in tears, which is not a big a deal except I can’t identify exactly why. It started when I was praying, which happens, so ok, but I don’t really do basket case – except at Christmas and sometimes Mother’s Day – so I thought I’d make a list of probable causes.

And since I’m reading Brene Brown on vulnerability, I thought I’d write it here, in public. Lovely.

Photo Credit: Hebi65

Photo Credit: Hebi65

Probable Cause #1 – I could use more safe space to write the crazy shit in my head. Even writing that exposes “safe” for the illusion it is because that isn’t the problem. Caring what everybody thinks is the problem. In some of my circles it’s a little sketchy to admit I still say shit from time to time. I work daily on not conforming to the patterns of this world but sometimes, in certain circumstances, my word demons insist that shit is absolutely the correct word. Refusing to use it or just muttering it because I’m trying to look holy, is disingenuous. So I think I’d rather be a Jesus-following, recovering potty mouth than a churchy sweetie pie who says shit only when people who don’t care are around.

Ultimately, I am working to erase the line between my secular and sacred lives so you can expect the same person no matter where I show up – an objective, I think, worthy of suffering occasional profanity. However, if it offends you let me say, I am very sorry and wow, you should have met me five years ago.

Photo Credit: Hans

Photo Credit: Hans

Probable Cause #2 – I can’t find my wooly socks and my feet are cold, which is a distraction I don’t need. Also, because I am a woman of a certain age, I seem to be growing a beard and developing weird ailments in my feet, which cause me to perform yoga poses incorrectly while I’m teaching, so my feet don’t cramp. My hippie friends say my fear of stepping forward into my best life is manifesting in my metatarsals, and if that’s true, it scares me. My friends who aren’t doctors but watch a lot of Grey’s Anatomy think it’s tendonitis. If that’s true, it sounds expensive.

Probable Cause #3 – I used to read three newspapers a day. In the past four years, I haven’t read three newspapers in a month. It’s a totally selfish, defensive measure prompted by my disgust for corporate media and the mouthy outrage it provokes in me. To this day, if you want to talk immigration, please please only use the word “illegal” as the adjective it is – not the pejorative noun or personal pronoun favored by certain Americans. Plus, as I was learning to follow Jesus I couldn’t handle the behavior of some of his followers, so I shut everybody out. But since there have been 100 school shootings in the two years since Sandy Hook and each week a new unarmed black man is killed by police, sequestering myself so I don’t have to be outraged and discouraged, seems like a cop out. So, if you need me I’ll be reading and praying.

Photo Credit: Hans

Photo Credit: Hans

Probable Cause #4 – I love Jesus but Christmas wears me out. The solstice, however, resonates. December 21st is the shortest, darkest day of the year and, as it happens, the anniversary of the worst day of my life. I realize I’ve only written about that in kind of oblique ways, and maybe someday I’ll write it because if it helps you it’s worth it. But for now, if you’re trudging through the season, dutifully stringing garland on your mantle (yes it’s pretty when it’s done) and shoving a nine-foot tree into a room with eight-foot ceilings, I say, notice the trend. Maybe it’s time to consider different traditions. Some churches host solstice services where you can light a candle, acknowledge the darkness and anticipate the lengthening of days.

Photo Credit: Geralt

Photo Credit: Geralt

It’s clear to me now, this is all Christmas’ fault, but if you love the season, ok. I’m happy to to come sit on your couch, with my socks on, in front of your fire, to admire your mantle and drink eggnog, but I might cry on the way home too.

And maybe that’s just the way of things.