Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Living Fresh

I don't make resolutions much any more, but I usually adopt a New Year "theme" that eventually becomes a series of resolutions. So, as the old year fades away, I am contemplating themes for 2012 and I think I have settled on Living Fresh.

Children, at least before they start school, start every day fresh. Yesterday is forgotten in sleep and by morning the new day is another adventure to be lived and loved. I don't operate that way much anymore. My first thought this morning was sad, "Today's the day the kids leave." The second was fretful, "and I have to write my blog before I take them to the airport." The third was self-critical, "Oh why didn't I do that yesterday?" 

That little internal conversation pretty much summarizes what's wrong with a lot of adults: we can't stay in the moment because we think we should be in control of our days. It's not true. We control very little of what happens to us.  Children don't believe they control anything so they just taste, and sometimes savor, the moment. Though I gave up believing I could control things a long time ago, I never really broke the habits that I formed when I thought I was in control.

So Living Fresh is going to be my my theme for 2012. I want to greet each day like the psalmist who says "Fill us each morning with your constant love, so that we may sing and be glad all our life." Psalm 90:14 (TEV) I want to begin each day with that great sense of possibility that I had as a child. I suspect that this will require changing many habits, and really re-booting my prayer life, but I think it will increase both my joy in life and my trust in God.

It will be an experiment, but my hypothesis is that if I turn the past over  to God every night, and ask to be filled with God's constant love every morning, it should change the way I approach each new day. Fresh start, every day!  I want to truly live as a child, a child of God who depends on God.  A child reborn in my baptism every day, just as a child greets a new world after sleep. God can certainly order my life in ways far beyond my puny powers of organization or foresight or knowledge. The experiment may fail. Perhaps my planned method is not the right one. Still, I feel certain that I can entrust this year to God. God who is the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow. I'll keep you posted.

Happy New Year! Happy Fresh Start!  

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Celebration Season

It's getting close. The actual celebration is upon us in 48 hours or so (or already over, depending on when you read this.) I hope it's going to be a real celebration.  There are any number of elements that make Christmas a celebratory occasion: gathering of family from far and near, repeating traditions handed down from generations past, the blessing of new family members, the rich blessings of the previous year, new toys, clothes, and treats of every variety delivered by a jolly old elf driving a sleigh pulled by reindeer.

And the baby!  That wonderful baby who is God-with-us.

It's very hard to keep the baby at the center of the celebration.  The preparations are so overwhelming that the baby is, well, like a baby!  Tiny and helpless and easily moved from place to place; a treasure and a trial, all at the same time. Sometimes the baby gurgles and coos and calls you to come and play with him: Christmas programs, choir rehearsals, festive lights because the light of the world is coming.  Other times the baby pierces the air with screams that indicate displeasure or discomfort, inciting you to action, making you want to help: Bell ringers stand outside of stores and restaurants incessantly clanging, reminding us of people in need. Our mailboxes are flooded with appeals from a myriad of good causes all tugging at our hearts, making us wish we could make it all better. And sometimes the baby sleeps and has almost no impact on life at all but is always there, in the background, a factor that must be considered when making decisions and preparations.  How wise of God to come to earth in this fashion. It is much harder to dismiss a baby than a grown-up.

So, here are two final suggestions for the Extreme Season.  First, bake a cake. Bake, or buy, a birthday cake for the Baby Jesus. Your littlest celebrants will immediately connect the dots - cake, baby, birthday.  They know what that means! Serve your birthday cake, complete with candles, as dessert at your main Christmas Day meal.  Sing "Happy birthday dear Jesus, happy birthday to you." This one simple project puts Jesus at the center of the Christmas celebration and makes him the Guest of Honor.

My second suggestion: Revive the ancient custom of celebrating Christmas for twelve days.  Such a great event can't really be celebrated in one day.  Christmas Day can be the first day of celebration.  This year most of us will have Monday off, so celebrate again on Monday.  In the "olden days" January 26 was Boxing Day - the day when things displaced by the newly received gifts were given to the poor.  Celebrate by making room for all the new things that came into your home on Christmas. For many people, the day after Christmas is Visiting Day.  Maybe you can celebrate by making plans to visit friends as the year wanes.

When the day has passed, hold the joy close to you. Cradle it, as if it were a new baby arriving in your home. Treasure the Child, not just this one day, but every day, and the next time the season arrives you'll be prepared to be less extreme, and more serene. Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Meeting Season

Yesterday, as a bunch of little kids helped me put the Christmas story together in sequence, I got to thinking about Mary and all those strangers arriving unannounced to see the new baby.  Can you imagine? First an angel shows up and announces her pregnancy. That would have been enough stranger for me already.  Then, exhausted from giving birth, huddled in a stable without her mother or sisters to welcome them and usher them in to see the baby, a batch of filthy shepherds who hadn’t bathed in weeks shows up. Then the KINGS! Well-dressed in rich clothing and driving Rolls-Royces (OK, camels, but still, all the neighbors would surely notice them parked outside and start wagging their tongues!) Can you imagine?

I don’t expect all those visitors rattled the baby Jesus in the least.  He was still blissfully unaware of the fact that He was no longer tethered to his mother’s body.  Eating and sleeping were His primary concerns; the rest was just kind of a blur behind His mother’s face and voice.  I’m guessing that was a little different by the time His first birthday arrived!  

My sister tells of her husband’s grandmother who offended her deeply by asking about my niece, “Is she strange yet?”  Turns out this is a German phrase meaning “Is she afraid of strangers yet?” I like it. Children go through periods of being fearful of strangers. It’s part of the developmental process. Are your children “strange” these days?

Who is coming to your house for Christmas?  Or who is going to be at your parents, or in-laws, or wherever you’ll be gathering?  Will there be strangers? Yep. They might even be named Grandma and Grandpa, or Aunt Laurie, or Uncle Greg. These people, whom you have loved and known all your life, may be strangers to your child.  This point was driven home at my recent visit with my family.  My niece said to one of my daughters, “I’ve only seen you like five times in my whole life.” Now, that’s not an exact count, but several of those visits WERE when she was too small to remember!

Meeting all these “strangers” can create a lot of stress for your child.  Of course it’s more stressful for some children than others, but regardless of their personalities, it can take a lot of energy to deal with all these people.  They may also resent that you are holding some strange baby cousin or that you are deep in conversation with some strange woman (like your sister), and not paying them sufficient attention. Stress then brings out the worst in your child - whining, clinging, melting down. . . and you are embarrassed.

When you take your children to church, the neighborhood pool, or  your company Christmas party, you are very aware that all these people around you are strangers, and you monitor your child closely. Do the same with your loved ones, and your child will feel a lot more secure, and warm up to the relatives faster. It’s very hard to think of our families of origin as strangers to our children but, in reality, that may be what they are, especially if we don’t live close enough to come together regularly.  Keep all this in mind and you can successfully introduce your past and present families to each other, even if a few smelly shepherds or kings on camels show up.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Remembering Season

How are your preparations coming along?  I don't even have to specify what preparations I'm talking about - you know I mean holiday preparations. Are you having any fun making them? I'm just checking because it is so easy to miss the fun - and, to quote a song from an old movie "but it's the laughter, we will remember, whenever we remember, the way we were." This is the season of remembering.

I was at my sister's home for Thanksgiving and all the nieces and nephews were there and we made lefse. Now making lefse is a special holiday tradition for people whose forebears came from Norway.  It's a labor intensive undertaking that yields what are essentially very thin potato tortillas. It is manna to some of us, tradition for others, and love, even to those who don't especially like it. My grandmothers and great-grandmothers (well 3 of them anyway) made lefse, and my mother is passing on the tradition to the next generation. It's messy and time-consuming and involves a lot of work and, especially when there are beginners, laughter. For the cousins, seven of them, and one recently added spouse, it was a great way to be together. They haven't grown up near each other so gatherings can be a bit awkward. Tackling this project was a way to pool their talents and splash around in the laughter. They will remember this day.

The next day, some of us filled up a couple of cars and visited the farms where my parents grew up. And we visited the churches and the graves. We felt sadness as we missed those no longer with us - but joy at all the wonderful memories. I have to say, on the whole, that it was fun to ramble through the memories. And new memories were being generated even as we waded through the old ones:  the startling sight of a llama among the sheep, the fight over the check at the restaurant, the wind, the Starbucks. There will be laughter from this day to remember as well.

This is the remembering season. Take time to share your memories with your kids and to make some new ones. Play some cards, sing some songs, and visit some relatives. Your kids won't remember most of the gifts they get this Christmas, but they will remember your stories and traditions and what made them laugh.  Find the time, and the laughter – it will add joy to your season.