Category Archives: December prompts

count your blessings

joy

Too many. There are too many. From  the gloriously mundane, like full pantry and freezer and a humming furnace, hot coffee with my sweetheart and the abundance of time we all have together right now. There are the jolly ones, like helpless laughter in the kitchen and music spilling over us.  There are the truly unmeasurable ones: their rosy, healthy boy-faces emerging from long nights of sleep, our walls that cradle safely and shelter and peace, the comfort of one another.

May you find many blessings to count this day and the next. Among mine I number you who come here to glimpse what I see and read what I say. Merry Christmas!

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hello winter

hello-winter

It is, as often happens here, an unusually mild day on which to welcome winter. We may see seventy damp, balmy degrees this afternoon, though in weeks past we have already had our first hard-bitten breath of cold; heavy frosts in the mornings following bitter nights.  Though I’ve lived here most of my life, and I know the chill will return, I feel unsettled by this unseasonable warmth just before Christmas, a little restless and displeased that it looks more like soggy early April than a holiday card outside my window.

I am also unsurprised but a little rueful that so many of my self-care practices have slipped as the holiday has approached. Too many days have been fueled on coffee rather than water, my yoga mat is undisturbed, rolled behind the gift wrap that has taken over the guest room, and I’ve found myself here in this space less and less.

On the days when I have remembered to breathe, to eat protein before lunchtime, to find a lens or pen, I have felt much more settled into my spirit. But it is true that more days have been frayed by the too muches and too littles of being a mother at Christmas. 

It is all right. Even as I make my lists for the next few days, and plug in the colored lights and make space for one more craft project, one more batch to taste, I know these decorated and glittered days are brief as they are bright. I’m trying to enter into them fully, joyously, knowing there is no such thing as perfectly ready, balanced or prepared. There is only this messy and glorious oasis in the darkest days, around the wreath, around the tree.

Even as we are still making ready, the slow turn toward the light begins. With those longer days will come the spare after-Christmas house, the reclaimed hours and projects  and plans taken again into ready hands.

But now, I just want to say yes. Yes, and hello. To the small full hours right now. Today.

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illuminate

illuminate-1illuminate-2

I’m never tired of the lacework of tree branches against a dawn sky. Though crossed with power lines and bisected by a blinking cell phone tower, there is an essential beauty in their purity, their pen and ink precision.

But this morning, I’m not as much dwelling on the beauty without, but the richness within that the rising sun illuminates. The side lights mist with condensation. We are on the furnace and double-hung window side of a hard frost. As the living room fills with golden light half of our little family has the luxury of staying put, eating steaming pancakes and studying under a shearling throw.

Simple gifts– warmth and light and the grace of stillness.

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The Elusive Enough

should--shouldn't

December as a mother is a cat and mouse, odd tennis match of a game.  Shoulds and shouldn’ts volley back and forth, not enough, too much, not enough, too much. Too much sugar in little mouths, not enough homemade treats, too much buying, not enough stuff to pass from hand to hand, one beribboned box traded for another. Not enough carols, too much noise. Where is enough?

Enough not in the sense of perfection, but in sufficiency, satisfaction, rest.

It’s a little funny to me how bad theology and the consumer frenzy can sing the same tune this month, that there is no such thing as enough, that only the tabulation of what we have done and what we have left undone matters. Matters, but will never. quite. measure. up.

Today, family portrait untaken, cards unordered and unsent, menus unplanned, gifts as yet unwrapped, I’m slipping myself off the hook of the should/shouldn’t pendulum, laying down my racket, leaving the score unsettled. I declare that there is enough. We move on from here, from where we are, less shiny, better rested, unready but present.

 

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bright

bright

On Saturday I co-led an Advent retreat for about twenty folks from the mission church our family is a part of. A dear friend and I wove together Scripture, meditations, movement, art, poetry and photography into a few hours, to consider the Nativity story through the eyes of Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and the Magi. Our hope was to create a peaceful quiet space to be with these characters in new ways.

There was a lot to love about Saturday, gathering in that room of people to have a true Advent morning, to press pause on the relentless march toward Christmas and honor waiting and mystery and the darkness almost always needed to birth new things. But my favorite moment was at the end, when we invited each participant to come forward and share which Nativity character he or she had chosen as a “companion” for the journey to Christmas. Did one long for the openness of Mary, the faithfulness of Joseph? Did another long to emerge from the shadows into light with the shepherds, or know the journey across the desert with the Magi? Each person then lit a little tea light. Each shuddered and nearly went out right after it was lit, but one by one every wick straightened and every flame rose pointed upward.

Altogether, those hopes and prayers and longings were so bright. I carried their light and warmth home with me, and carry them still.

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haunted

M2

She is the ghost that hovers around the edges, every December. A bit older than this picture, but I don’t have many pictures. She is the Christmas child I was, going on forty years ago, only a few miles from where I tuck my boys in every night.

For some reason when I was growing up, we set our Christmas tree up, not in the living room on the main floor of the house, but down in a basement level “family room” my parents had carved from an old carport in a haphazard home addition. It was carpeted in thin indoor/outdoor carpet, kept a chill in all seasons, and smelled of the earth and mold that surrounded it on three sides. It was my playroom of sorts. Our family only gathered there once a year, on Christmas morning.

It’s hard to miss all the metaphors for our lightless, lead-footed family life in the remembered trek down the stairs on Christmas morning, once the electric baseboard heaters had shuddered to life to take the bite off the air, the mustiness beneath the hot chocolate and scorched coffee.

But what I remember more, what silvers the edges of my grown-up Decembers, was the stubborn hope of that chubby little girl. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, she helped assemble that ancient artificial tree, fluffing its sticky branches. She flung handfuls of plastic silver tinsel. She spun holiday records on her white plastic record player and sang along with gusto.

Despite eleven months of slammed doors and shouted threats and grim silences, despite the knowledge, deeper than sense or language, that the household walked on the tightrope between one ill-places word, one imagined offense and the next moment, the child I was kept Christmas. She guarded wonder, and merriment, and somewhere in herself, peace.

I’m the parent now, in a one-story house where the tree will go front and center, filling the house with freshness.  My boys prepare for Christmas in the midst of busy, imperfect but unclouded childhoods. If they could really squint back down the years at that little girl they’d probably pity her, with her solitary carols and her plastic decorations.

When I catch a glimpse of her out of the corner of my eye, there is a part of me, too,  that wants to gather her in my arms with apology. With her, for her, I light candles and bake treats and sing carols. But I remember that the Christmas that paraded behind her nearsighted, dancing eyes was wonderful. She practiced and practiced for when she’d be taller, when she would once and for all come up the stairs, and out into the light.

 

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