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.

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Turkey, with a Side of Perspective

Thanksgiving was in full swing upstairs, but I had slipped downstairs for a moment to breathe. My cat Oliver, who had come to my parents’ with me for the weekend, rubbed up against me and started purring. I picked him up and squeezed him, as if squeezing my silent, furry friend could ease the pain inside me.

I felt unutterably sad about the tension between my dad and me. I felt sad that he had said nothing about the Thanksgiving card I had left on his desk. I so desperately want a good relationship with my parents, but I want that relationship to be one that allows us to talk as adults, back and forth. I want to be able to be honest about what I think without being condemned, and so far I have seen no progress in that direction. And here, at my family’s, we were celebrating thankfulness, and I could only seem to think about how my recent efforts at openness with my dad had failed or been misinterpreted or ignored. Not that I had always handle everything well– I fail as much as anyone– but I had been trying harder than usual, it hadn’t been working, and it hurt.

But as I hugged Oliver, suddenly I remembered that this was not the first Thanksgiving when I had excused myself momentarily from the family gathering because the atmosphere of happy thankfulness had become oppressive. And when I remembered the circumstances, I smiled in spite of myself.

I had probably been about fifteen or sixteen, and we were at my grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving– you know, the long table and the cousins and the whole nine yards. It was all very happy and wholesome, and we had just gone through that yearly rite-of-passage where we all went around the table and said what we were thankful for.

I don’t remember what I said– something trite and expected, probably– but I do vividly remember excusing myself shortly thereafter and going into one of the bedrooms and throwing myself headlong on the bed, the quilt pressing up against my cheeks as I ground my body into the mattress in silent agony over the charade I’d just been through and the emptiness I saw in my own soul.

You see, I was in the middle of one of the darkest chapters of my short life, although I was doing a mighty fine job of hiding it from everybody around me. As a young person who’d grown up in the Christian church and been raised by very Christian parents in a very Christian way, I had been wondering for the last several years whether or not any of it was real. And I was terrified that it might not be, and yet afraid of the condemnation that would come should I ask the questions that were tearing me up.

Hence the inner agony. My life might not have any point to it, there might not even be a God or any hope for forgiveness or purpose, and I’d just stuffed my face with turkey and pretended to thank Him for it. I was desperate for answers and sick of the charade, and the agony of all of it was shredding me inside.

Over the next several years, my own inquiries and the guidance of several wise adults pointed me toward satisfying answers to my questions. My parents’ faith has now become my own. I believe with all of my heart in God and His plan, even if I will never have all the answers to why the things happen in life that happen. God held onto me. I was His, I am His now, and I will be His for eternity.

But I still remember that day with the vividness of a photograph, of a frozen moment in time. I remember it as one saves a relic. It’s a reminder of how lost I was then, and how found I am now.

This was what I thought of, there in the basement, as I hugged Oliver and took cool breaths of air in the solitude of the basement. And yes, I smiled at the memory.

It was the comparison of the two that made me smile. Because, what is a conflict with my dad in view of the destiny of my soul? The one question, the important question, was answered. And the answers I found are the answers to everything else, to every other desolate moment I might have.

I don’t know how things will get worked out with my dad. I hope for peace, for understanding, for a trust-based adult relationship, but I may not find what I seek. There’s bound to be a lot of unpleasantness ahead. But I can make it through that unpleasantness, because, well, I know Who’s holding onto me. I know that He exists. I know that He has a purpose for everything, and I know He is my Savior.

Not that it eases the pain. Just last night– after this epiphany, mind you– I was crying in a corner of the couch after nearly everyone was in bed, texting a friend about all the ugliness I felt. But that’s life sometimes. It stinks, and no amount of pious-sounding words will fix how much it stinks and hurts.

But there is hope. And there is purpose. As the Sunday-school song says, “this I know,” beyond shaking.

Nothing like a little perspective to put you fully into the spirit for Thanksgiving. Carefully I set Oliver down and headed back upstairs into the warmth of the kitchen and the laughter of my family.

Snow for Thanksgiving

It was several days before Thanksgiving three years ago. I’d been working my little bookstore job, but had closed early, at my boss’s direction, when flakes of snow started drifting down.

It doesn’t take much more than a little snow to send the good people of Oak Harbor, Island County, and northwest Washington in general into a sort of panic, mostly because we don’t get snow often enough to have sand trucks, snow shovels, or snow-driving skills. We are afraid not only of the snow but of each other. It is reason enough to panic.

So I walked back to my apartment, savoring the beauty of the flakes drifting down, and spent a peaceful evening. I wasn’t especially worried about my plans to drive to my family’s in a few days; whenever we get snow, it doesn’t stick for long. Especially when it comes as early as November.

Much to everyone’s surprise, though, the snow stuck. And accumulated. And I found myself, the day before Thanksgiving, very snowed in. I took a quick walk to the entrance to my cul-de-sac, watched another lightweight rear-wheel-drive car of about the size of mine spin and spin its wheels as it tried to mount the thick-crusted incline toward the main road, finally giving up in defeat and retreating to its driveway. I shrugged my shoulders and headed back to my warm apartment. Looked like I would be spending Thanksgiving here. I better call my family and let them know.

But it was not to be. “No, I’ll come and get you,” said my dad firmly. “I’ll take Amy’s truck. I shouldn’t have any problem getting down into your driveway. You’re coming home for Thanksgiving.”

An hour and a half later, my sister’s Ford F-150 crested the entry to my cul-de-sac and pulled up in front of the apartment. My dad helped me load my bags into the warm truck as if he were my chaffeur, and we pulled away.

Next thing I knew, we were in front of Starbucks. “Get whatever you like,” he said, as we climbed out of the truck into the warm coffee shop. While I waited for my double tall gingerbread latte, I thumbed through the CDs in front of the counter. “Illuminations” by Josh Groban had just come out, and I pulled it out and started reading the back. My dad snatched it away from me and handed it to the barista. “And we’ll take some Josh Groban, too.”

I will never forget that ride home in the dark with my dad, the dashlights glowing, my fingers around a warm cup as new songs from one of my favorite artists poured out of the speakers. My dad had heard the album once or twice already, and as a song came on he’d make a comment. “Ooh. ‘Bells of New York City.’ This one’s good.” Or I would exlaim, as the percussive intro to “Voce Existe En Mim” came on, “Oh, I like this.” And the tires of my sister’s trusty truck carried us closer and closer to my family’s home and my family themselves.

When I was young, Thanksgiving was a time to gather all the cousins around a long table at my grandparents’ house and stuff our faces, followed by space adventuring out in the rec room. Those days have passed. People have moved, people have died, people have other plans these days.

Those Thanksgivings have a special place in my heart. But now, when I think of the perfect Thanksgiving, I don’t think of Grandma’s house or the cousins or the turkey. My mind drifts to an evening lit by my sister’s dashlights, surrounded by the sounds of Josh Groban’s singing and the deep, secure warmth of my dad’s love.