Long Days and Short Years

just trying to pay attention so I don't miss my life


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When Christmas Hurts

I began this poem in the margins of my church bulletin last Sunday.  Our prayer request time had been (not unusually) raw and real, with brave people daring to admit that they weren’t doing “fine, thank you.”  It’s amazing how this honesty spreads across the sanctuary.  After we cried together, prayed together, and stood together to sing; something changed.  I don’t know how to describe it exactly, but the closest I can come is to say that Joy seeped in through our cracked walls.

*

As words came, so did tears.

Tears like rivers, slowly cutting through bedrock.

Rivers carving out channels where there weren’t channels before.

And

we were swept downstream

together.

*

There in a jumbled heap

we looked at one another again, no,

we looked for the first time that morning

and saw the eyes of grown-ups

who were barely hanging on.

*

What do you do,

we whispered to someone listening,

when you are counting for Christmas to be over?

What if the missing is just too much

and each twinkling light stings?

What do you do if this was not the plan?

*

Tissue boxes arrived,

we passed them around,

but still we sat, breathing together.

Now we were waiting,

hands resting on the backs of our neighbors,

we were waiting for hope to come.

*

Hope does not come with happiness.

We knew it.  Happiness is too thin.

Hope needs friction, not fa la la la la.

Tensile strength, not tinsel.

We needed a Christmas strong enough

to bear this sorrow.

*

And it was given.

It was given the moment we stopped grasping, and

with hands on backs and true words spoken aloud,

we received it.

We were surprised.

The hope came through joy.

*

We stood to sing.

Joy to the world.

Joy to the messed up real world.

Joy, which is not candy,

but medicine.

*

*

I am indebted to the author and anti-sex-trafficking advocate Christine Caine for this metaphor: “Joy is not ‘imitation happiness’.  If happiness is like candy, then Joy is medicine.”  I have been thinking about this phrase since I read it in her painful and hopeful book, Undaunted, and I am grateful for her hard-won wisdom.

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Did Mama Grinch Kill Santa Claus? You Decide.

And here we go again.  It all begins innocently enough.

Last year our youngest daughter learned two simple facts.  One.  Santa was modeled after St.Nicholas.  Two.  St. Nicholas lived a long time ago.

She started thinking.  Processing.  Her eyes grew wide as her brain made a logical leap.  Then the question came:

“Santa is died?”

“Uh, well, not exactly, but sort of, I mean…” (to see an account of my stammering, look here.)

And.

The saga continues in 2013.

****

It’s our oldest this year, our lovely almost-six year old daughter.  Last week we attended a St. Nicholas party, during which my friend read the story of St. Nicholas to the assembled kids.  And then… what was that?… a knock on the door!  Outside there was a basket of adorable little stockings, filled with clementines and candy.  The kids bounced and screamed.

St. Nicholas! St. Nicholas!  It’s a miracle!

A Miracle!

But our oldest saw only candy canes.  She negotiated her sugar allowance (2 pieces) and ran upstairs.  A half hour later she cornered me in the kitchen.  “Mama?”  “Yes?”  “This is beginning to get creepy.”  “Creepy?”  “Yes.  They’re all upstairs saying that St. Nicholas brought us the stockings, but St. Nicholas is dead, Mama.  That’s creepy to say that he brought them.”

Oh.

“Mama, I want you to tell me who really gave us the stockings.  Was it the grown-ups?”

“Yes,” I confessed.  She smiled widely.  “But you can’t tell any of the other kids, okay?”  “Okay, Mama.”

She bounced back upstairs.  My heart sunk a little.  She isn’t yet six.

****

When I was their age, I did believe in Santa, so much so that I swear I once heard reindeer hooves on my roof.  I brought my list to the mall, put out carrots and cookies on Christmas Eve, and wondered how he could do it, all in one night like that.  It was about more than just the presents, it was the story, and I was caught up in all of it.

The magic faded gradually as I grew.  I don’t remember a moment when the scales fell from my eyes, nor a strong sense of betrayal when I realized I had been duped.  Rather, my desire for the presents themselves slowly supplanted my need for reindeer and the North Pole.  Santa?  Yeah, right.  What I wanted were new jeans and a phone for my room.  My family continued to leave out carrots and cookies, but it was just for little brothers, and then just for tradition.  Cute.  It was a cute story for little kids, but really, I’m too old for all that.

And at some point I began to question all the cute stories.  Santa with reindeer, Baby Jesus in the manger.  December seemed to be a month for myths, and how different were a ‘he sees you when you’re sleeping’ Santa and a God looking down from above?  C’mon.  Let’s talk about my list, cause the pile of presents is magic enough for me.

And it was enough, until it wasn’t.

Once upon a time I became too old for stories, and later I became too old to live without them.  Somewhere around late high school, something changed.  The stuff wasn’t enough anymore.  But what do you do when you’re eighteen, and you can’t go back to Santa?  What do you do when you suspect that Jesus is just the grown-up’s version of flying reindeer?

Or.

It is possible that there could be true magical stories?

****

At our house there are four kids under the age of six and four parents (under the age of, um…) who are trying to give the kids a magical month of December.  We four adults have fallen into Christian communities in one way or another, with varying amounts of struggle along the way, and we have found our homes in a common story.

Now we are trying to give this away.

But it’s hard, because the animals around the manger don’t fly, and Jesus didn’t come to earth to give us I-Pads.    The Heifer International catalog has a lot more to do with Christmas than the Toys R’ Us advertisement, but really… what would you have wanted to look at when you were almost-six?  It’s hard to not feel like Religious Nut Mama Grinch when the American Girl catalog goes straight into the trash.

Still.

We have not given up on magic around here.  There are Christmas lights covering every surface of the porch, and a ‘yes, you can play with it’ manger scene.  Baby Jesus is getting a birthday cake (cause really, kids+sugar is a winning combination for any holiday), and kids in Haiti are getting new soccer balls (cause that’s what Jesus put on his list).  There are boots for St. Nicolas Day, secret gifts for St. Lucia Day, and (if I actually get around to it this year) cookies for the neighbors delivered with smiles and Santa hats.  And yes, there are presents on December 25th, and the grown-ups who gave them to you love you very much.

Sometimes I’m still not sure if we’re cheating them the magic of Santa and reindeer on the roof, but when it comes down to it, we’re just trying to give them magic that will last, magic that you can’t grow out of.

We’ll let you know how it went in a couple of decades.