Sunday, November 30, 2014

First Sunday in Advent: My Poverty

I have joined Angela and others in a Pause in Advent. Check out Angela's site for a list of other bloggers participating in this annual event.

"Advent isn’t a holiday party. It doesn’t pressure us to conjure up a hopeful face, ring bells, and dismiss the foulest realities we face. Advent isn’t about our best world, it’s about our worst world."
                      --Christina Cleveland (for her full post on Advent, go here)

Last year, I didn't start writing about my poverty until the third week in Advent. This year I have a cold, so I'm going to write about my poverty right off the bat.

First, I should say that as colds go, this isn't a bad one, just a very congestive one. Still, I'm missing church on the first Sunday in Advent, and that's a bummer. I was looking forward to going to the all-congregation "Let's Get Ready for Advent" meeting at 9:45 and to the service afterward. Instead, I'm sitting on my couch with a box of Kleenex and a cup of peppermint tea, blowing my nose every three minutes.

And I'm sort of laughing at myself, too. A couple of weeks ago I was thinking that maybe this year would be different. I'm more organized this year. I've already baked eight dozen Christmas cookies and popped them in the deep freeze. I've already come up with a satisfying list of presents for the boys and sent it to the Man, who will do the ordering and shopping. So maybe, just maybe, I'd end up enjoying Advent this year, really get into it.

This year, I'd be all about the light.

And then I got this cold--it showed up Thursday night, interrupting my plans for a productive weekend of sewing, cleaning and yardwork--and thought, nope, nothing's changed. I get a cold or some kind of bug every Thanksgiving. I thought this year might be different because I'm much more diligent about washing my hands whenever I come home from the library or shopping, and besides, I had a bug in October. Shouldn't I get a pass until the new year?

Nope. No pass. And I suspect that whatever I do, however organized I am, the next few weeks leading up to Christmas will be a slog. Maybe I'm wrong. But it doesn't pay to get optimistic this time of year, not for me at least.

So you can imagine that I found the quote above helpful. Advent is a time when we watch for the light--but the light isn't here yet. It's a dark time of year. It's easy to lose hope. This has been a dark autumn for a lot of people I know--unexpected, terrible deaths, cancer, broken relationships. The fact is, it's a dark world.

In her post on Advent, Christina Cleveland goes on to write, 

"So, this Advent season, let’s engage and lament darkness as we seek the Light. In doing so, we participate in the ancient longing of the coming Messiah, a longing that began when the earth was still formless and empty, persevered in the hearts of Anna and Simeon, and continues today."

Having a cold isn't a big deal, but it's been a useful reminder that when we put our energy into making a perfect weekend, holiday, Christmas season--a perfect anything--our energy is misdirected. The darkness is too big. Advent is a time to remember just how dark things are and little we can do to change that. We don't have it in us. 

But the Light does.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Little Gift I Gave Myself

The notes I took last year after the Christmas madness was over

I have a Christmas notebook. It looks like this:

It is the best thing I've ever done for myself, other than marry the Man. In it, I write down what we gave our various relatives for Christmas and what they gave us (so we can write our thank you notes). During the year, I keep notes on gift ideas or the boys and the Man. Given that I can forget a great idea in the time it takes me to get from the shower down to my desk, there's no way that in December I'll remember that inspired thought I had in May.

Today I had the brilliant idea to write down where I've hidden the gifts I've already bought. I have spent more than one Christmas eve tearing through the attic and my study closet looking for stuff I know I bought but can't for the life of me find.

As I write this, I'm printing out calendar pages for November and December. This year I will conquer Christmas. I will stay ahead of it. I will create space--mental, emotional--to observe Advent and not give up by the second week of December because I feel overwhelmed by everything I have to do.

Right now my big plans include:

1. Start making Christmas cookies next week. Freeze them, don't eat them.

2. Have gifts for relatives mailed by first week of December at the very latest.

3. Take annual Christmas card photo of Travis over Thanksgiving weekend and off to the printer the following week. Cards out by the week of the 8th.

4. Have all my gifts bought and wrapped by the 15th.

Can I do it? Well, I've got my notebook to remind me what supplies I need and don't need. I've got my calendar pages ready to be filled in with deadlines and chores. I have many years of Christmas misery to spur me on. Stay posted. I'll post my official calendars soon.

Monday, November 3, 2014

I'm Back

The quilt I'm working on--almost finished after two years!

Whew! Did not mean to be gone so long. Hello! How are you?

I'm fine. Sorry to see October go, especially since I feel like I missed most of it. The first two weeks were busy-busy--writing deadlines, school visits, volunteer work, the works. Then, two weeks ago, I got hit by a lovely bug, the sort that lingers and leaves you feeling totally fatigued. I got done what had to be done, and then I napped.

Finally, starting last Friday, I started feeling better. I feel mostly okay now. The idea of writing a blog post, for instance, doesn't leave me sprawled across the couch, hand over my eyes, wailing, "I can't! I just can't!"

So here I am.

Latest news: Will turned 12 on Friday. That's rather hard to believe. As 12-year-old boys go, I think he's pretty typical, which is to say, a delightful pain in the butt. He's very funny, but also tries too hard to be funny, so that you finally have to send him out of the room because he's driving you crazy. It's clear that he's about to have a big growth spurt (his feet are already enormous), but he's still shorter than I am. Yet that doesn't stop him from coming up to me and asking, "How's the air down there?" It was funny the first eighty times. He still lets me put my arm around him at church, and he kisses me goodnight every night. Hope that never stops.

Jack is joining the swim team! He texted me on Friday to ask if he could get a physical this weekend because he was starting practice on Monday. The Man and I were a bit concerned, given that Jack really isn't much of a swimmer. He had a couple weeks of lessons when he was 9 or so, but that's it, and he's never been on a team before or shown any interest before last week.

As it turns outs, the swim team at Our Fine Upper School is open to everyone--and apparently that means everyone. One of Jack's friends told me this weekend that last year a kid joined who couldn't swim a stroke. So Jack should be fine. The fact is, he's tall and thin and might make a great swimmer. Me, I'm just happy he's getting more involved at school and getting some exercise.

And as long as we're in the business of doing new things around here ... The Man signed up to help with our new church's Christmas market. Did I tell you we've started to go to a new church? I think we've finally found the place for us, Mr. Southern Baptist and Ms. Cradle Episcopalian. It's a Methodist church with a big-but-not-too-big congregation and a very active youth program. I hadn't planned on switching churches, but the little Lutheran church down the road we'd been going to didn't have much going on for teens and tweens, and as a sixth grader, it was time for Will to get active in youth group.

So I came up with a great idea--Will could go to youth group at another church with his best friend Gavin. Of course, I'd have to check out the church first myself, though I'd heard good things about it from Gav's mom, my good friend Sarah. I hadn't planned on us switching churches as part of the deal, but Reader, I fell in love. Beautiful church, friendly people, big enough so you could slip out after the end of the service without making small talk (important to us introverted types), small enough not to feel like just a face in the crowd.

And most importantly, the pastor rocked. She kept preaching on stuff I'd been thinking about, and she kept making sense. So I got the Man to go, and he liked it, too, so we've been going every week. And last week, when the need for volunteers at the annual Christmas market was announced, the Man leaned over and whispered, "I think I'm going to do that."

Reader, I married him.

Well, I married him twenty years ago, but still. The Man is even more introverted than I am, so I'm very proud of him for getting involved. And for showing up at church every week. That's what we're up to these days: showing up--to swim, to make silly jokes, to help out.

Me, I'm showing up to reclaim my house from a month of total neglect. To plan for the holidays now so I can actually enjoy them when they roll around. To sit with a friend whose going through a hard time.

And I hope I'll be showing up here a little more. Stay tuned!