When Easter Doesn’t Feel All That Holy

easter

Two weeks before Easter, Grandma generously surprises us with a bag of dresses, all butterflies and flutter flowers in aqua and blue. The girls try them on the next morning and refuse to take them off, dancing like fairies to Stevie Wonder while the rain mixes with snow outside our farmhouse windows.

Later I sit down with my bible during the twins’ afternoon nap and think, Easter. I should read about Easter. I end up somewhere in Matthew 5 instead, reading through the beatitudes and trying not to yawn.

A week before Easter, I go through the drawers and bins, hunting for tights and sweaters and shoes. (Yes, that’s Midwestern snow in the background, thank you very much.) Nothing works. The sweaters are stained. The eldest has a bin full of neon tennies and worn out boots. The tights all say 6-9 months.

Somehow, our preparation for Easter keeps running that track. Clothes. Shoes. A nap instead of contemplation. Suitcases. Car repairs. All things irrelevant to the story of a man on a cross, a body gone missing, an angel in a garden.  

We pack the van and drive six hours across Minnesota and down into South Dakota to the farm where I grew up. We are immediately welcomed by family, activity, food. The next morning, the girls follow Grandpa across the yard, bounding like eager puppies. They relive my childhood of feeding livestock, petting cats, begging for tractor rides.

feeding cows

I stand by the kitchen window, coffee in hand, witnessing this ordinary, extraordinary grace.

But later, the girls are tired and owlish, and we abandon the idea of going to an evening Good Friday service. My brothers and their families come over instead, and we eat dinner out of a giant skillet, talk, laugh, wrestle children into pajamas.

There’s celebration in this. I know there is. We extend grace to one another when the table never gets set and we eat chips out of the bag. Fellowship is washing the dishes together, snapping towels, telling stories.

It’s not the usual, contemplative celebration of the body and the bread, and maybe that’s okay.

The hard part is this: the holiness of Easter is not where I used to find it, sitting quiet in the pew of a small country church, and I don’t know how to feel it here, lying on the living room floor with a shrieking toddler jumping on my legs and the TV droning in the background.

***

I’ve always craved the holy bits and pieces of things. You know, the proverbial moments when the music swells, the lights dim, and sacred swirls around, unmistakable. The candles at dinner. That split second when everyone is laughing all at the same time and the sun is setting and the world glows in hazy, golden twilight. Moments when everything comes together, holy, unmistakably divine.

You too? Good. Welcome to the fold.

Here’s the problem. I’m also a parent. And as a parent, I find that holiness is not in the vocabulary of my very young children. Quiet times are interrupted by fights over a toy. Church gets skipped when the girls don’t sleep well, or refuse to stay with anyone but mama. Early mornings are cut short; books I’m reading go lost under the couch.

Too often, the moment I’m craving slips by, an unacknowledged guest at the wedding.

I can’t help but think that something’s wrong here.  Maybe you’ve felt it too. Maybe you’ve nursed your way through countless different services instead of listening to the message. Maybe you were relegated to the kids’ table after your toddler spilled her third glass of milk. Maybe you skipped church for months at a time because of traveling soccer. Or maybe church was never part of your vocabulary to begin with, but you still feel this draw, this quiet calling out.

The reality I’m learning, and relearning, is this: we can’t always rely on a church, or a moment, to hand us our portion of desired holiness on a silver platter.

What if having “unchurchy” moments forces us to create our own definition, a definition that says it is not the when, the where, or the artifice of stained glass that allows us to contemplate and celebrate the mystery and miracle of our faith?

What if our new definition gives us the freedom to do it when we can? Where we can? With whomever we can?

What if, instead of manufactured moments, we sought connection with God himself?

***

This is how I ended up celebrating Jesus’ resurrection by myself the Monday after Easter, while the laundry thumped around in the dryer. I finally had a second to breathe. My eldest was in preschool, and the twins were napping. So I dug around in the fridge and pulled out some naan (the closest thing I could find to unleavened bread besides teddy grahams) and filled a little cordial glass with juice.

I leaned on the counter, and I read the story of the Last Supper. This, my body, broken. This, my blood, spilled out. I took makeshift communion. I prayed. I looked out the window at the brown of spring struggling to unfold in the northern climes of Minnesota and breathed a simple, heart-felt thank you that had nothing to do with eggs and candy and hair bows and coordinating shoes.

It wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t choreographed or particularly inspired.

But it was space in the ordinary to recognize the sacred. It was searching out God himself, laying my simple gratitude at his nail-scarred feet.

Midday, barefoot, holy.

 

Friends, do you have ideas for drawing yourself, and/or your kids into unconventional celebrations of holy moments? Leave me a note in the comments. I’d love to hear how you balance the two!

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.

 

Holiday reinforcements

In life, just like in battle, reinforcements can mean everything.

This has been a month of necessary reinforcement. The girls gave up sleeping through the night about five weeks ago (funny correlation – how long has it been since I posted?)

Gabby's new look

Gabby’s new look

It’s been rough going.

The reason, best we can tell, is teeth. Yep. Teeth at four and half months. Gabby cut her first two last week, and Lucy is not far behind her. And the little buggers must hurt, because once in a while the girls will let out blood-curdling screams that scare the crap out of me at 2:30 in the morning. The only thing I can do is nurse them back to sleep.

This happens once, if not twice, each night. So it’s back to sleeping in two to four hour increments for us. Sigh. The funny part is, we can function like this. Not well, obviously, but it’s possible. And so that’s what we’ve been doing.

Functioning.

Despite our lack of sleep, it’s been a busy month.

Scenes from friendsgiving - yes, that's a pumpkin creme brule pie with a gingerbread crust. And I'm pretty sure Sarah's french silk pie reached hallowed status.

Scenes from friendsgiving – yes, that’s a pumpkin creme brule pie with a gingerbread crust. And I’m pretty sure my friend Sarah’s french silk pie was so good it reached sainthood.

We decided to do a “friendsgiving” the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Jason bought a turkey, I told everyone to bring a side dish (and it didn’t matter if it was leftover or re-purposed from actual Thanksgiving), and we made a big pot of macaroni for the kids. It was not going to be clean or trendy or perfect, and none of those things were the point.

It was chaos of the very best sort. Nine kids to eight adults. Foot traffic everywhere, crumbs and beverages on every surface, baby gates and diaper bags and sweet little hands tugging on whatever pant leg happened to be in reach.

When the meal was over, Jason built up the bonfire in the front yard. The guys went on kid/dish duty so the girls could get outside and have uninterrupted conversation. I snuck out first, face and hands tingling in the cold night air. I watched the kids jumping and chasing one another. There was commotion in the mudroom – hats, coats, boots being zipped. But for a clear, star-filled minute, I was alone in my yard.

I love moments like this. It’s like taking a nap in the living room when someone’s in the kitchen and the gentle activity of the house is a reassuring hum. Observation is rest, is beauty, is worship in its own right.

So I let my head fall backwards. I unrolled my fists in my pockets and let the muscles in my face go slack. Two days after Thanksgiving, I finally I let gratitude wash me, and I shivered at its overwhelming force.

I know the cardinal rule of holidays is being present and mindful. But holidays with babies take that to a new level. Being present means counting the hours since the babies last ate. Being mindful means double checking the diaper bag to make sure every possible scenario is prepared for.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the rush and bustle, the flurry of arms that greet me at family and friend gatherings. But that night, when everything stopped for a collection of star-studded seconds, it was exactly what I needed.

***

10th annual Fellas and Wives party

10th annual Fellas and Wives party

Okay, so throwing a party probably seems a little more like functioning. I get that.  But compared to my days filled with diapers and crayons, discipline and feedings, planning a gathering seems so wonderfully normal.

Cooking becomes my creative outlet. Eating together becomes a celebration, and even the humblest of meals becomes festive when  shared. And as a bonus, having people in my home also means one important thing.

Help. Help on so many levels. (And someone else holding a baby.)

Juliette's amazing gingerbread trifle

Juliette’s amazing gingerbread trifle at Friend’s Christmas

So we keep opening our doors, practicing hospitality even when the floors aren’t clean and the babies are crying. We love collecting the people in our lives around our old Formica table.

We love eating good food (particularly Scottum’s dulce de leche ice cream – not pictured because it was devoured way too quickly.) We love sprawling out around the fire, tripping on toys, and holding our little ones.

We love the waves and hugs at the end of the night, each one like pressing a seal on our time together.

***

Sometimes raising my girls feels like I’m setting out to paint a gigantic church with an old, frayed paintbrush. But then someone comes along with a piece of scaffolding. And another. And another.

Lucy, Lila, and Gabby sporting Aunty Kari's Christmas gifts!

Lucy, Lila, and Gabby sporting Aunty Kari’s Christmas outfits

We paint together for a while, and it gets easier.

A few weeks back, a friend watched all three of my girls while I went grocery shopping. Another friend helped me coral my girls at open gymnastics. Another accompanied me to Target so I could have an extra cart and a playmate for Ellis.

Friends and family have helped me shop, taken me out, come to my home and watched my girls, leaned on the counter, drank coffee, called, texted, and even Skyped.

 

Super grandma to the rescue!

Super grandma to the rescue

My mom went so far as to clear her schedule last week to help with my teething terrors, and Jason’s parents have been amazing overnight babysitters.

Scaffolding, all of it.

Reinforcement.

And we are, as always, grateful.