Beating back the dark side of Christmas

Winter 2013 022 (1082x1280)

It’s the Friday before the second weekend in December. My approaching day is full of party prep activities, Christmas card pickups, grocery shopping runs with three children. I feel tired before I even peel my face off of the pillow.

Nevertheless, I get up early to sit, breathe, read, pray. For the moment, our house and its inhabitants are quiet, windows still turning a shoulder to darkness.

Each day this dark encroaches further, stealing into our hours of light.

It will continue to do this until the winter solstice, December 21st. On that day, Earth’s northern pole will see twenty-four hours of solid darkness.

It’s strange. We call Christmas the season of light, though in reality, it’s the exact opposite.

Christmas descends into the darkest hours of our year.

Here on the farm, we’ve found the miniature nails and hung the aging, craft-store garland that somehow survives year to year. The tree is brilliant in a new corner of the living room, a wonder after having fallen on the piano and the floor three times so far. Almost every room hosts a new light, sparkle, shine.

But outside, darkness weaves into the fabric of winter blue sky sooner than we’re ready for.

It seems as though there is less time.

Which isn’t true, exactly, but no one quite believes it. The first wave of holiday busyness is in full swing, and we’ve started to feel the pinch. The presents that took too long to find and cost a little too much. The magical cookie making that turned into a three hour flour-and-sugar marathon. The half-empty boxes of decorations waiting to be sifted through, hung, arranged.

And everyone tells us to slow down, pause, be present….and then buy this. Wear that. Hang this. Smell that.

Darkness laughs.

It knows, deep down, we’re afraid. Afraid of missing the season, never quite engaging, spending our time going through the motions, producing cheap shine and scraps of tinsel.

Every December, we set off on a great journey to the 25th. It looks nothing like the journey of the original Christmas story, the one where Joseph and his very pregnant betrothed, Mary, walked/rode on a donkey for 80 miles to follow a government mandate and register for a census.

We see concerts. They saw the backside of the donkey in front of them. We splurge on special foods. They ate travel food – stale bread, hard cheese, watered down wine (hardly the recommended diet for a pregnant mother.) We snuggle down deep in our beds. They slept on the cold, rocky ground.

It was, in fact, only day after day of hardship that finally led them to a dusty, crap-smelling stable in Bethlehem.

It’d be easy to miss that, too.

A baby born in the darkness of a cow barn, supposedly a king.

A baby foretold to make a way for mankind.

A way to find God. To stop going through the motions and know Him.

To hear Him. See Him.

To be illuminated by the Light of the world.

Which has nothing to do with what kind of appetizers I set out for a party… and everything to do with the way I love and bless my guests when they walk into my kitchen.

Nothing to do with presents… and everything to do with the appreciation they convey.

Nothing to do with picture perfect cards… and everything to do with the way they encourage and brighten others.

To purpose to see every small celebration of the season as a pinprick of light, a joyful response.

 

What Mary was Really Thinking

garden_statue_maryTonight at our Christmas Eve service, I watched an amazing friend bring some of my musings about Mary, the mother of Jesus, to life. I cried. I laughed. I watched Mary step out of her stained glass, stone-carved perfection and become a real person.

Christmas is steeped in tradition. For me, Mary was a Sears nativity figurine in a blue robe that was always caught in some sort of ceramic breeze. She was beautiful. Untouchable. In my mind, she was perfect – the woman God chose to carry his Son. She knew what she was doing, right?

Then I became a mother, and I realized none of us really knows what we’re doing.

No matter how perfect every picture, every icon, every statue might make her look look, on the night of Christmas Eve, Mary was a scared girl in a cow barn laboring through clenched teeth.

I don’t know where you’re at this Christmas. But maybe you’re like me, wanting to hear an old story with new ears. If that’s the case, my version of a window into Mary’s thoughts is for you. Merry Christmas, friend. Merry Christmas.

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Breathe. Breathe.

No room. No room? Who says “no room” to a pregnant woman? I know. I know. Census. Travelers. I’m thankful for a roof. But wow. I’m going to have a baby. In. A. Stable.

Breathe. Breathe.

Father God, I have no idea what I’m doing. I don’t know how to have a baby. This is my first time. And I don’t know how to handle it. It hurts. Do You hear me? It HURTS. For the record, my mother didn’t say anything about this part. It was all “your sweet little hands” and “just a few pushes.” Right.

Breathe. Breathe.

Joseph told me to lie down. Like it’s that easy. On straw. STRAW. Dry, dusty straw that’s been sitting in a barn for how many months. No thanks. Think I’ll stand.

Breathe. Breathe.

Father God, I don’t know how to be a mom. I mean, I don’t even have any diaper rags along with. How is this going to work? No really. He’s your Son, but he’s still going to need his diaper changed. Everyone says it’s instinct. I’ll see Him, and I’ll know what to do. But really, will I?

Breathe. Breathe.

Why does no one talk about labor? What is it – some sort of secret code? Rite of passage? How long is this going to last? I wonder if anyone left the inn early. I really want to wash without a bunch of cows around.

Breathe. Breathe.

Father God, keep Him safe. Keep me safe. Keep Him safe. Keep us safe.

You wouldn’t bring me all this way to lose your child, right? The angel didn’t say anything about that. He said I was going to have a Son. So it’s going to happen. I’m going to have this baby. Your baby. In a stable full of cows.

Forgive me. It feels a little…strange. Why here? And why me? Wouldn’t it have been better to pick a mother who’s already had children? Who knows what she’s doing?

God, I honestly don’t know where I fit in all this. I don’t know how to be a mother to your Son. I’m not perfect. I lose my temper. What if I mess up? Can I mess up? Are You going to be mad at me?

Breathe. Breathe.

Do you know the hardest part? Ever since I was a little girl, I loved hearing the shouts when firstborn sons were born. The family would get up on the roof and call out, and everyone below would stop what they were doing and clap or dance.

But no one knows we’re here. My firstborn deserves all the shouting in the world, God, but instead it’s going to be quiet on this roof. Silent.

Well, except for the cows.

Breathe. Breathe.

Hush little baby. Mama’s here. Daddy’s here. Father’s here…. Always here… Hush. Please come. Please come soon.

I love you.