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

How Not to Be a Jerk at Sam’s Club.

IMG_4698I’ve had a slow leak in one of my tires for eight, ten, maybe twelve weeks. Because we have a compressor, I just pump it up and take off again. Of course, Sam finds this totally charming and has reminded me 300 times that Sam’s Club services the tires you buy there, for free.

It’s useful to note that I am extremely important and very busy.

Last Monday, we finally dropped the truck off. The shop was busy so Sam and I went to dinner and returned a few hours later. They were busy again. So I had to wait to get my keys, which, like most of you, I love.

As I drove home, the low tire light refused to go off. Safe in my carport, I whipped out my favorite tire gauge and found two tires properly inflated, one kind of and one half empty.

“Seriously? Must I check my own tires after leaving the tire shop?” I shouted. “Why aren’t they properly inflated? Thanks a lot Sam’s Club. Should I check the lug nuts too?”

Sam egged me on because he thinks it’s funny when I’m mad, especially when I’m digging for my cell phone and the number to Sam’s Club. The store manager was soothing and promised to call back the next day.

But then he didn’t.

All week I stomped around shrieking about Corporate America and wishing I had two million Twitter followers so Sam’s Club would attend to my needs. Occasionally though, I sensed a low voice something like the baseline in a song saying, “Wow, nice first world problem you have. That must be so hard.”

But I ignored that because I have rights and people should do their jobs.

Sam asked how it was going. I sent him this selfie.

Sam asked how it was going. I sent him this selfie.

On Friday, I called again. The tire manager said if I brought it back he’d look at it himself. So I did, and since they were busy, I went to eat some delicious Sam’s Club pizza. Paying for said pizza I recalled, Sam’s doesn’t accept Visa, which is the only currency in my wallet – ever.

A young man with a hairnet stood at the register holding a large slice as I fished in my jeans for $2.49 I already knew wasn’t there. Just then the guy behind me, a big guy with a beard said, “hey let me get that,” and tossed a $20 over the counter. Ugh, I hate indebtedness. I squirmed and profusely overthanked him.

After two hours with no money in Sam’s Club, a polite, young tire guy took me in the back to explain my problem – nails. Three of them, in four tires. As we were talking, another guy walked up – a big guy with a beard…and a uniform.

“Are you driving on a lot of construction sites?” he said.

“Um no. Hey you bought my pizza!”

“Yah. Wherever you’re driving with lots of nails, you should stop driving there.”

“Um, ok. Sorry I accused you guys of doing your jobs badly and thank you again for the pizza.”

“You bet.”

Driving home I realized two Sam’s Club employees took all my tires off, inspected them, cleaned the green slime out, patiently explained my problem, then fixed it, and bought me dinner.

And I never bothered to learn their names.

So what? I mean besides the dinner that’s what they’re supposed to do.

I know but following Jesus is, in part, about recognizing opportunities to love people. I was too busy texting sad selfies to acknowledge them as more than just a means to my end.

See, following Jesus is hard because it requires regular awareness of what other people need. Being self-absorbed is much easier and faster, especially at a such a busy, busy time of…um…year.

And I think zillions of little subplots are simmering just below the surface of our lives. By looking for them and deliberately entering in, asking names, saying thank you, speaking life and kindness, we build the Kingdom of God in the exact way Jesus commands. Friends, it’s not in the grand gestures or the obvious.

It’s in the subplots. Let’s go look for them.

The Secret of Contentment

Did you know sharks need forward motion to survive? Without forcing water through their gills, they drown.

Anybody else feel like a drowning shark right now?

Currently, I have two nine-foot artificial Christmas trees lying in the living room under eight-foot ceilings, and the only reaction I can muster is, “Nice Clark.”  Also, I’m a writer not writing, a reader not reading, and a bible student not studying. I can’t figure out how to fit my square-peg self into a round Christmas hole, and lately I pray like a kid off her Ritalin.

I’m struggling with things I once did with ease, and it stresses me out. If I’m not those things who am I? Author Sarah Bessey talks about “the right now and not yet” Kingdom of God. Wherever that is, I’m there. I’m stuck in the becoming and I need forward motion.

Unfortunately, my Christian friends pray for me then say things like this:

“I feel like the Lord is saying you just need to pause.”

“Maybe just be a still for a little while and wait.”

Worse, that supports what I’ve heard in my own speedy-sleepy, look-there’s-a-squirrel, prayer time.

“Rest. Baby. Rest”

This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it. Isaiah 30:15

Are you kidding me? I’m like a dog chasing cars. I don’t know why I’m doing that but I’m loathe to stop because what beating will my identity and self-worth take if I’m not getting my book published, expanding my platform, rocking my job, and making my house look like the cover of Southern Living? I’m supposed to just sit still and like it?

fresh holiday decor

I know, gorgeous huh? Photo coco+kelley

Maybe that’s what the LORD meant by the “you would have none of it” part.

The Apostle Paul said, “For I have learned to be content in any circumstance. I have experienced times of need and times of abundance. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of contentment, whether I go satisfied or hungry, have plenty or nothing. I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me.” Phil 4:11-13 NET

Paul didn’t say the secret of contentment fell on him like rice at a wedding, he LEARNED it, and probably while standing in a Roman prison in ankle deep sewage. What sort of encounter did Paul have with Jesus, either there or on his way to Damascus, to produce that kind of confidence?

Whatever it was, I seem to be taking the long way. Except for two, too tall Christmas trees, there’s not one thing wrong. No prison. No sewage. So what’s with the discontent? Why am I chasing cars?

Because I doubt who I am in Christ and I don’t know how to rest in his strength.

Ouch.

See chasing happiness is easier because it gives us something to do, like the dog. Resting at the feet of Jesus, requires attentive stillness, humility and surrender. It’s where I get ok with bringing nothing to the table.

Rest is the prerequisite for contentment.

Maybe the difference between happiness and contentment is like the Paris hotel in Vegas vs. Trocadero Square. At first, the mini Eiffel Tower jutting out of the Nevada desert with all the sparkly people partying beneath it, makes your heart race because it doesn’t yet look like the hopped up, expensive hoax it is.

But the first time you see the real thing, with the sparkly lights dancing all around it at midnight, it doesn’t make your heart race. It makes it stand still.

Eiffel Tower