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

Choose Love Over Lonely.

Love DinnerThroughout my first year living in East Texas, I prayed every time I went to the grocery store.

“Lord, please let me run into somebody I know, and let us discuss the price of lemons, or dish washing liquid or the crushing loneliness that moving twice in four years brings, and if they could invite us over for dinner that would be nice too. Thanks. Amen.”

It never happened. Not one time.

That spring I was in California, sitting by my friend Karen’s pool, drinking wine with three of the world’s smartest women, when I said, “Yah, I’m basically a hermit now and I don’t even care.” Speechless and mortified, they threatened an intervention if I didn’t come back to California and myself.

But thirsty country has a purpose and I know now what it was for me. I also know heartsick and lonely like my own face, but running to California isn’t the answer (ok sometimes it is). Admitting this feels vulnerable and losery, but maybe if we said such things to one another and quit faking it, we’d get out of the desert faster.

So it was no small thing this morning, when I found my kitchen happily strewn with wine bottles, spent candles, flowers and stray forks after not one, but two Love Dinners. One was scheduled, the other was a charming surprise.

Photo Credit: wili_hybrid

Photo Credit: wili_hybrid

Staring at the chaos with sheer gratitude, I thought “this is what building life with Jesus and his people looks like.” It looks like messy tables and open invitations for people to poke around your broom closets and say, “uh hey, what’s this?”

We don’t do this enough because we care too much what people think. We hide, exhausting ourselves with frivolity and small talk, when what we want is to be known and loved in spite of it.

This may be the best part of following Jesus. He knows me and loves me anyway. So I can relax around people and say “yep that’s a jacked up mess and I don’t know what to do about it.” On Friday night, it was fragile and a little heavy, so my friends turned it carefully in their hands and said, “Nope, we don’t either, let’s take it to Jesus.”

And something precious grew between us that someday Jesus will use for his own purposes.

Sure it’s easier to stay home and watch tv; it’s chancy to invite someone into your broom closet. It’s even chancier to invite nine somebodies, but it’s worth it because sometimes one will show up, hand everybody a tiny gift and say, “I know I can do hard things because I have all of you.”

I’m a million miles from the grocery store parking lot, and you can be too. If you’re struggling with loneliness here are a few tips:

1. You are enough for God, in all your beautiful damage. He can and will steady your heart, if you ask.

2. Then he’ll move all your furniture around and invite new people over to sit in it, and that can be scary and hard.

3. But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, just keep walking toward it.

So make the call. Light the candles. Look each other in the face and get down to the way things are.

This isn’t frivolity. It’s legacy.

Struggles with Loneliness.

Lying in bed with the flu this week, I was reminded that I am a lonely girl. That may be news to some of you who know me because I’m fairly gregarious, but two moves in four years to opposite sides of Texas has exposed a familiar condition.

I do a lot of stuff alone, always have. There are consequences.

Thank God for Sam. As he loaded up my sick-bed with books, kleenex, Emergen-C and soup, I wondered out loud, if he weren’t there, who would I call to help me?

“Of course, there are people I could call,” I said.

“Yah but you wouldn’t,” he replied.

He’s right. I’m an independent girl and I occasionally overuse it, maybe to hide some native shyness. Sometimes it’s easier to be separate and aloof, but the perils of that approach come into sharp focus when you’re lying in bed with nothing to do but ache.

Though my bible sat next to me on my bed, I just was too sick and cranky to read it. It felt like a chore, so I did easier things. I watched Sex In the City reruns. I read Vanity Fair’s comedy issue. I painted my toenails and finished a novel that was mostly a trashy waste of time.

Here were the mental results of that approach:

“Damn, I need to move to a big city, develop a snazzy writing career and find girlfriends who are perennially available for cocktails, maybe then I’d quit being lonely and scared that my life is meaningless. But what if Sartre is right, and I’m looking for meaning where there is none and making a fool of myself to the secular world by writing about it?”

Yikes. Can you believe I think things like that, and then say them out loud? Me either.

This morning, still feeling sorry, I tried a different approach. I went into my office, shut the door and waited for the God I say I believe, to weigh in. I know from experience that praying over my fears can lift the fog and yet, I still look to Sex in the City first.

So I sat in virasana – a yoga pose that looks a lot like kneeling, and said, “God Help. I’m lonely”.

“You know, I will never leave you nor forsake you. That I’m always with you until the end of the age. I know every hair on your head and your steps are ordered by Me.”

Did I “hear” God saying that?

Well, those are scriptures, four to be exact, pertinent to my concerns, that I have read dozens of times, and they whistled to mind like bottle rockets. So is that God talking?  I think so, and as if to back it up, I felt my heart steady and peace begin to fill my body. It’s hard to describe but it’s the kind of feeling I imagine hens have when they finally settle down in their nests.

Why didn’t I do that yesterday?

Waterfall

Photo credit: enor

What is the point of suffering the irrational leaps required to believe in an unseen God, if it doesn’t help you manage your daily life? My traditional methods of dealing with loneliness – eating junior mints, reading magazines and watching silly tv – didn’t work. Praying did.

Those are the broad and narrow paths between which I constantly choose. I write about stumbling around because, unlike a some Christians, I’m short on certainty and I only want to serve you what I’ve eaten myself.

I know following Jesus makes no rational sense and today it’s one of the least fashionable choices one can make, but when I do it with heart, I feel whole and calm. Maybe even ready to go join the quilting club.

I offer this experience for your consideration.