A Resolution to Celebrate

As summer gave way to fall this year, I made myself a resolution. I was going to celebrate this year.

Maybe it’s my hobbitty heart, with its love for the sparkle and merriment and food of the holidays. Maybe it’s that they represent something innocent and childish. Maybe it’s my love of stories, which entwine themselves around all holidays. Maybe it’s the colors and the foolish beauty of decorations. Maybe it’s the gathering together of friends and family, painted in my head in the most idealized Dickensian lamplit colors. Maybe it’s my passionate love of gift giving and receiving. Whatever it is, there is a deep idealism in holidays that my heart yearns for.

And I sure didn’t have much of it last year, for whatever reason. Last fall, I was in the thick of my student teaching, doing little else besides school-related activities. Furthermore, as I’ve discussed before, it was a spiritually and emotionally draining school year. Students were wracked with tragedy; the school took several hard hits. For those reasons and perhaps more, I spent the holiday season in a sort of dark fog. The holidays passed, and I nodded soberly at them as they went by, going, “Huh. That was Christmas. Christmas used to be so much fun. Is it always going to be like this now? Over before I can hardly register that it happened?”

But a sort of change happened in me this summer. I made a new friend, and I developed a crush. I know. Alarming. And, as you’ve read in previous posts, it’s been thoroughly dragged into the light, analyzed, and given a proper and respectable place as a friendship and nothing more. But in the middle of the summer, when I was working hard and happy outside in the natural beauty of Whidbey Island, the peculiar heart-glow that comes with the giddiness of a girlish crush, especially when it is reciprocated by the kindness of friendship, lit me up from the inside. And as my overdeveloped imagination painted blooming future images in my mind while I scrubbed toilets and weeded walkways, the paintbrush strayed toward the upcoming holiday season.

Why, now that I had someone to do them with, I could do all the holiday things I’d been too busy or serious to do for the last several years! I could go to a corn maze with him, and then, by George, we could carve pumpkins afterward! Then would come Christmas. Would he go caroling? Would he like to walk around and look at Christmas lights? What about going to a Christmas concert of some sort? Suddenly all of the holiday sparkle, which had struck me as a jaded, gleaming veneer last year, seemed joyous again. 

Thus I resolved to make this season the season of celebration once again.

Now that the relationship has taken a more substantial and less romantic turn, I look back on the giddy, ephemeral source of my resolution with a little bit of embarrassment, but I will not say with shame. There is no shame in the rekindling of the heart. And the truth is, that somehow, God used my girlishness to not only bless me with a supportive friendship but to lift me, at least a little, back toward a sunnier outlook. And for both I am thankful.

But back to my resolution. As the fall rolled around, the corn maze and pumpkins happened, crowned with an evening of Doctor Who at a friend’s house. Halloween came around, and, even though I never celebrate Halloween on principle, I set aside said principles, figured that there was nothing fundamentally wrong with dressing up and watching a spine-tingling movie or two. So over the week, I crossed a few classics off my list, including “The Nightmare before Christmas” and “Arsenic and Old Lace.” Halloween night, I put on my long coat and went to the new Dracula movie with my friend. By now, our relationship had been carefully categorized; it did not lessen the charm of the evening.

Then came the Thanksgiving season, and my resolution to celebrate encountered its first hiccup. The week before Thanksgiving, my father and I had a telephone conversation, which I have already blogged about, which threw a very wet blanket on both my friendship and my celebratory spirit. And, lucky me, it was right before that holiday which, more than anything else, focuses on family. I got to go home and spend the week with people who were unhappy with me about something that made me happy. Great.

But sometime around Thanksgiving and the struggles that surrounded that week, I had to ask myself why. Why should I celebrate? Really, truly, why? Because I had a crush with whom I could share the sparkling delights of the season?

Or maybe these holidays were like my own giddy feelings. Once the sparkle floated away, there was something more substantial, more valuable to be found.

For the first time, it occurred to me this Thanksgiving that maybe my resolution to celebrate could be carried out despite all occurrences otherwise. That even if the circumstances surrounding this holiday season should become as clouded as they were last year, I could still celebrate.

And this Christmas, I will. That is a resolution and a promise.

Sure, the celebration might look a little different. Maybe it wouldn’t be the giddy, superficial fun, although giving that an try couldn’t really hurt. Maybe it would be possible to set the burdens on my heart in the hands of my Heavenly Father for long enough to enjoy some true holiday merriment. It would certainly be worth a try, should those burdens become overwhelming.

But there is so much more to Christmas than glittering trees and Christmas carols and presents (although those things are a source of particular pleasure to me). It is about showing love to others, selfless love that is not dependent upon any conditions at all, because that is the kind of love that Christ showed when He left Heaven to take on bodily form. No matter what the circumstances are, I can celebrate in the deepest form this Christmas.

Now, the best part of this is that I can use that kind of celebration to fuel the other parts of celebrating. I can celebrate by helping my mom make Christmas dinner, and by eating the Christmas dinner we’ve made. I can celebrate by giving gifts that speak my love to my sisters and family. And every time I show care or love–deserved or not, felt at the moment or not– I am celebrating.

So with that I laugh in the face of wet blankets and fog. Come rain, snow, or sunshine, I will celebrate Christmas this year.

Advertisements

Adventures

Tolkien was right. They do sometimes make you late for dinner.

Last week, I led a field trip that I’d wanted to do for some time: I took my students to Seattle to see ACT Theatre’s production of “A Christmas Carol.” My school is small, but not small enough to fit into my little Acura—so Cheryl, one of the moms, borrowed a twelve-passenger van from another mom, topping off the gas before leaving, and van and Acura caravanned out of Oak Harbor about 9:30 in the morning.

Two and a half hours later, we had safely navigated the parking garages and were seated as the lights dimmed and the snow machines began turning. Another two hours, and we were walking back up the steps toward the exit, admiring the old theater and debating why the Ghost of Marley had sprung out of Scrooge’s bed (my personal theory: it was simply the scariest way possible. We expect our beds to be a refuge, not the home of the ghosts). After a final poll amongst the twelve teenagers, we decided on an early dinner at Red Robin in Everett, got back in the vehicles, and took to the road.

Won, our Korean exchange student, looked at the clock in my car and informed me that he thought it was too early for dinner.

“Think of it as a late lunch, then,” I said.

Since he hadn’t eaten his snack earlier, he seemed fine with this arrangement, and joined the other two boys in beguiling the time discussing the merits of gourmet hamburgers.

We had just gotten off on the Everett exit when my phone rang. It was Cheryl, and her voice was panicked. “The car is having problems!”

“We’re almost there… can you make it to the restaurant?”

“We’ll try…”

I went ahead and drove the final couple of minutes to Red Robin, unloaded the three boys who had ridden with me, and stepped inside the restaurant to warm up. My phone rang again.

“We couldn’t make it,” Cheryl said. “The van died at the stoplight, and when we got it to go again, we missed the turn. We’re at a park and ride.”

I thought fast. “My family lives about ten minutes away, and we have a van. Maybe one of my sisters is at home and can at least help the kids get to the restaurant. We can figure things out from there.”
“Oh. And we figured out what was wrong. I put gas in, and it’s a diesel.”

My friend Kristina—the engineer—had very recently felt the need to explain to me in great depth about exactly why putting gas in a diesel was a terrible thing to do. When Kristina decides to explain how something works, it’s comparable to what you get when you tell a nursing student that you have a bad ankle. I looked from my phone to the three boys. “They’ll be a while.”

While the boys ran around the nearby Toys R Us making fun of Legos and hitting each other with rubber balls, Cheryl and I did our best to straighten out the situation over the phone. My sister ended up using our van to not only pick up the vanload of kids, but to take them all the way back to Oak Harbor after dinner. The other van ended up at a shop in Everett overnight, and, last I heard, was all fixed up and running just fine.

When the boys and I knew that my sister was on her way with the other kids, we headed back to Red Robin, where the patient staff took us to our tables and fed us French fries while we waited.

“Well, Won,” I said, “You thought it was too early for lunch anyway. I guess now we’re having dinner at the right time.”

“But I didn’t have my lunch!”

I gestured toward the French Fries. “Sure you did. French Fries for lunch, and hamburgers for dinner half an hour later. It works. You get in your three meals.”

And Won, who is getting much better at American humor, thought it was absolutely hilarious. But, after all those hours of driving and waiting, everything was hilarious, including gas in a diesel engine!

Wondering as I Wander

There’s something special to me about the stars. Whether it’s Javert’s magnificent solo in Les Miserables, Sam’s simple little song in The Return of the King (the book, of course), or a little offhand comment courtesy of the Doctor, it seems that most (important) literary figures agree with me: their untouchable beauty has the power to inspire. As to Sam, to me the stars represent the truth that there is light and high beauty beyond the darkness of this world.

My most recent pen-and-ink drawing, reproduced for this year’s Christmas card, attempts to capture some of that wonder that I feel.

https://www.etsy.com/listing/168882775/2013-christmas-cards-wonder?ref=shop_home_feat

There were all sorts of delicious challenges associated with this drawing; for example, how was I to shade a dark night sky using only thin lines of India ink? How was I to distinguish the “texture” of the sky from that of the hills, the rocks, the water, the elven maiden’s dress? What sort of “texture” does sky have, anyway? I had to answer that question if I hoped to work it in ink.

I began by thinking about the shaping of that part of the picture. The very concept of the picture demanded that the sky occupy a large part of the composition. I could use clouds and, of course, the placement of the stars to frame the picture, but it wouldn’t be enough. If I wanted the sky to command wonder, it needed a certain amount of shape. The awe-filled tone of the image handily suggested a round shape, a cathedral-like dome.

But I’m not the first artist to attempt to draw the night sky using lines. As I planned out the sky and began adding the first sets of lines to the dome-shape, I thought about the glorious swirls and patterns Van Gogh used in perhaps the most iconic portrait of the night sky to ever be created. Maybe I could use lines like he did, but with different intent—rather than filling the sky with pulsing, throbbing movement, I could stop it in one moment of cathedral-like, crystalline awe.

I filled in swaths of lines in the shape of a dome, leaving some glow around the stars, letting the sky and clouds be a little more stylized than my work normally is. Figuring that maybe the sun had just set in my little imaginary world, I let the lines get thinner and fewer between toward the horizon, making the shape darker around the edges of the dome and enhancing the illusion of space.

When I finished, I was sitting on the rock beside the elven maiden, my lips slightly parted in awe.

While it isn’t nearly as warm, merry, and overtly “Christmasy” as my hobbit Christmas cards from last year, “Wonder” makes a different statement about Christmas. The wonder of Christmas is not just cause for riotous celebration. Sometimes, like a starry night, it is cause for a quiet moment of awe.