Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Reclaim that Holiday Narrative--Why You're Doing Just Fine

In my memory, there was a lovely soap in a dish wrapped nicely in cellophane.  I think it was a favor from a party.  It was so nicely presented, wrapped up with ribbons, the pressed flowers, a variation on the theme of purple that showed so nicely on the white.  The scalloped porcelain dish on which it resided was delicate and lovely.  You almost didn’t want to use it and break that mirage of perfection.  So.  We didn’t.

For years, the soap gift was left to reside in the guest bathroom, a permanent fixture of temporary perfection.  Once it was opened, the illusion would be abandoned.  The “niceness” gone. 

The shrink wrap and cellophane did nothing to stave off the dust that accumulated under and around it,
Great Expectations 1860
however, and the only way to clean it—to salvage the soap, would be to open it.  Otherwise it would sit, growing brown with lack of care, a
Miss Havisham remnant, suspended in time, grown ill and forgotten from lack of use.

My mom was not a hoarder; she was a frugal saver.  And it wasn’t that we couldn’t afford nice things, it’s just that we didn’t have a lot of them and what we did have, were chosen pretty carefully.  I had started to ask her though, especially in the last years of her life, what we actually were saving these things for?  The china that was on display, the linen tablecloth in the closet that was yellowing with age, but never unfurled for the fear of the stains of the act of living and celebrating.  What was the actual point of keeping it perfectly perfect? 

Because when we do, or when we try, often the standards are far beyond our energy or interest.  The willingness is there, the execution not so much (consider, will you, the popularity of the “Pinterest fail” posts?).  If we all can agree that the striving for
"Strawberry Santa Pinterest Fail"
perfection is such that we need professionals to trim our trees and decorate our homes, if the only photos that grace our cards are those that have been shaped and filtered and vetted to a high polish of unreal, if we all agree that we’ve lost the newborn heartbeat of this season, then we’ve got to scale back, reevaluate, and reconsider what it is that we’re doing to and of and with each other.

Hang with me.  I’ve got a point about all this, and here it is: the holidays.  The act of celebration of family, friends and faith can quickly become like that unused but lovely relic in the stories of our family history.

It begins the minute I order the turkey for Thanksgiving and then have to choose a date to pick it up.  It hits quickly and definitively that the holiday season has begun.  And so too has the craziness, and the keeping up and the keeping in and the keeping of perspectives.

The last bit is the hardest to do and see and reinforce.  I want my children to have gratitude and to remember that the endgame in all of this: the presents, the lights are all visceral reminders of the Savior’s birth….

But the anxiety begins at Thanksgiving—the dishes to make, the pies, the baskets to fill for families in need, the lessons to impart while doing it all:

“Why aren’t our decorations up?”
“They have a tree all picked out, what about us?”
“I want the wishbone!”  “Wait!  Me too!  What’s a wishbone?”
“Where’s our elf?”
“Why don’t we have more decorations?”
“I really don’t want to wear that shirt.”
“When are the cookies being made?”
“I need to add something to my list for Santa.”

Clement Clarke Moore 1823
When I was growing up, Christmas centered around church, the constructs of a tree and presents and Santa and chimneys, stockings and cookies left out were foreign ones for my foreign parents.  I felt a distinct lack and embarrassment because of it.  (When you’re in school, you just don’t want to marked as different, that “othering” is also a social construct that we do anything to avoid well into adulthood.  After all, it has taken me many years to stand firm in my own skin to say it’s fine.  I cannot imagine the bone density I would have required at the age of 8 or 12 or 16 or 22 to do that.)

But when I became a mother, I wanted to do it all differently.  Create traditions and firmly plant seeds of ideas of gratitude and compassion that would be sparked into action from memory in the years to come.  And I don’t think I’m a bit different from anyone else in this regard.  It’s not the intentions that do us in, it’s not our kids, it’s the refraction of double vision (much like when you forget to put on the 3D glasses), the double vision of all you see around you quickly turns to tunnel vision and all you can think of are the things you have not done to make your holiday warm, meaningful and bright. 





Shake your head from the snowflakes of cheer that abound and know this.

You are doing just fine.  And the forgiveness and love that comes with this special season needs to start with you.  It’s not easy, you are smack dab at the end of the lengthy to-do list, but you need to forgive yourself and allow every single one of your senses to rest and rejuvenate.  You’re pretty good at giving grace.  How about sparing some on yourself?

I’ve been conditioned to look around me and see what other people are doing, and seeing, and tradition-ing.  All of this is conflated then when the brothers three come home and talk about what their friends are doing: “He said it’s a tradition!  What’s our tradition?”

Whatever your answers are, I suspect that’s truly where your traditions are.  You can reclaim the holiday narrative that has been written in your family.  You can impose the limits you need, you can reinforce ideas, and you can begin new ones.  Grace is like that, your book of grace; your narrative is not static.  It moves along with your life, it has no edge to test, its center moves around.  You can change it.  It doesn’t need to define you; it needs to be defined by you

Meet Milo.  He's on Joe's model
of  the Knight Bus.  I've tried
(unsuccessfully) to convince him and his
brothers that Milo really just wants
to be a wizard and hoped to catch
a ride to Diagon Alley by staying right there.
I could get grumpy.  Truth be told, I probably am.  I still have cookies to bake so they can be decorated to goopy perfection by this trio.  I have gifts to wrap, and to order, Christmas cards to address, cookie swap to bake for, teacher gifts to consider, a poinsettia plant to keep alive, a tree that needs watering, dinners to plan, an elf to move, Advent devotionals...and that doesn’t count all the other things checked off the list.  But here is my response, when we look at Christmas, we’ve got to look at our hand, and count the senses we’ve been given:

Sight: I can see so much more beauty in the house at Christmas, the tree, ornaments that have stories
Advent wreath by Caleb Voskamp
attached to them, an advent wreath that follows Mary to Bethlehem, stockings, all in deep crimsons representing the heart and love and greens offering hope and growth.  Those colors offer surety and comfort somehow.

Sound: Music fills the air this time of year more than any other.  And it usually isn’t the loud, pop music I’m really unfamiliar with, but the old classics that everyone seems to know and hums along with.  My mother loved the Mormon Tabernacle’s version of Joy to the World.  For me it’s the Carol of the Bells and new renditions of old favorites that stir me to imagine something greater and makes me better. 

A Hallelujah Christmas - Cloverton Music Video... 

Smell:  I make twice-buttered rolls a couple times a year, standing rib roast and Yorkshire pudding once a year.  But what really reminds me of Christmas is roast duck.  My grandmother made 5 of them one year when she came visiting from India.  My mom
Since my mom's not here to advise
I found a gorgeous step-by-step from
The Hungry Mouse
took up the tradition afterwards and every Christmas Eve, that’s the dinner waiting for us. 

Taste: Sugar cookies have become a battle for me, considering I only started making them in earnest five years ago.  I think I’ve finally got it down though,
my gang, last year, decorating away
and the Martha helped a lot!  In all seriousness, nothing tastes like Christmas for me more than one of those carefully, crazily decorated cookies.

Touch: The laughter and cheer of games and stories.  We are more generous with each other this time of year; at least that’s what I see.  Hugs are given more readily; hands are clasped with earnest grace. 
the boys 2009

“Grace” in the Old Testament, the word used is chesed, which can mean deliverance or favor from God against enemies or adversity.  It suggests daily guidance and forgiveness.  In the New Testament, it can mean the unmerited favor of God.  For me, with this season, with Christ’s birth, it offers a chance of the amazing possibility of salvation and freedom and that kind of present asks for nothing in return but an extension of that forgiveness.  Some compassion, some understanding.  Amazing grace.  I have an opportunity to enact it all the time this season.  When I saw the lovely decorated house of my friends or the amazingly coordinated family holiday photo, I used to get pretty glum.  My house, not so much.  My photos…well, it’s an opportunity and a hope that one good IOS photo comes through.  Our budget was stretched to the extreme, and that meant no formal photos or extras.  But lately, just lately, I’ve taken off my glasses, cleaned them, gotten out of the double/tunnel and put them back on to see what’s really happening: 

  • I don’t know the crazy that took place around that holiday photo, but I can be so glad to see the genuine smiles of a happy family in it, and pray that it stays that way.  And I can file away an idea or two for the future.

  • I don’t know the amount of stuff that has been placed in the unused guest room so the main space can get gorgeous or how many things were broken by the dog before the party started, but I can be glad that my friend has this house and these things and share her pride in them.

  • I’m not sure of how many cookies got broken in the making of the intricately decorated Christmas tree sugar wonder in front of me, complete with miniscule candy ornaments and a glaze so fine, it cannot have been made by hand, but I can look at it and enjoy it and tell my friend how talented she is and how much joy seeing it brought me.

  • I’m not sure why my friend decided to post everything she’s done lately for the holidays or house or kids or classroom, but I instead of allowing the imp of jealousy come and steal my goodwill, I can give her the praise that she really needs to hear, because it isn’t coming from places where she needs it to come from.  She’s asking to be noticed, acknowledged and told that it is well.  And I can do that.  I can do that for her and maybe that will be the words she needs to begin the journey to rebuild whatever is broken in the background just out of the photo frame that will make her stand taller and more confidently. 

In the end, the very end, I cannot impose the intention of any post, photo, card or gift.  It is up to me how I’ve chosen to receive it.  And in the reception is grace.  And the more you give yourself, the more you have to give away.  The season is already perfect.  You are the perfection in the season, just as you are

That soap by the way?  We talked, my mom and me, and it was opened and used, and worn out and replaced.  Because that’s the whole point of lovely things after all, they grow lovelier with use and touch memory will imbibe it with significance.  That’s the alchemy of what makes the ordinary extraordinary

And that’s what I wish for you, moments of extraordinary ordinariness, and the perfection of your family, just as it is.  Merry Christmas friend, and God bless you in the upcoming New Year.  

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