holiday message 2011


2011 has been a difficult year and I’m not going to sugar coat it.  I’m glad to see it go.

This may seem a bit harsh, a bit glass-half-empty, a bit whiny, and even a bit ungrateful.  But it’s also true, more true than I even wish to share here, in this place that I feel more comfortable sharing in than any other place.


2011 – I’m glad to see it go.

This has been the catch phrase – the theme – that has embedded itself into my brain throughout the year.  You may know by now that I talk to myself in letter form quite frequently.  Words bring order to my thoughts and sometimes I find a good opening sentence can provide just enough structure to my musings to give me the strength to make a decision, perform a task, analyze a situation.  In E’s class they call this “the grabber”.  Once you’ve got a good opener you’ve drawn them in and provided the foundation for the story to follow.

I run into someone I haven’t seen in awhile and they ask “How’s it going?”  I find myself shrugging, non-committal.  Okay.  So-so.  I can read the questions on their face.  “It’s been a tough year,” I offer up, a vague explanation of a more complicated formula for the general state of things.  I always smile – it’s the optimist in me.  Things do get better, they slow down, they ease up.  Right?

I carried this phrase with me for most of the year.  It started so early, in the month of renewal and promise that January is supposed to be.  It came in the form of a cruel and unjust diagnosis for someone that we love.

It wove its way through our heartbeats, and we felt the stress and the weight of it as we waited for our father, our grandfather, to have his heart that we love so much opened up, scarred, forced to heal in a new way.  We thought we would be the most terrified during those hours when his heart would stop operating on its own, nervous that we had to trust a machine and a pair of hands to bridge the gap between non-function and function, death and life.  Looking back we know now that those hours were not the difficult ones.  The moments of his pain, his discomfort, were the stressful ones.  Make it worth it we whispered in our heads as we tried to work, to eat, to sleep, to play.


Work stress began to pile up, and the hours in the day to get done what needed to be done just weren’t there.  So we took them from the nights.  Two years into my title as “underemployed”, the shift of roles at work from getting jobs done to trying to find jobs was starting to wear thin.  I’d like to think of my husband as “overemployed” – too many tasks for one person to sanely do.  Our beloved daycare was faced with finding a new home after twenty-three years in the same location, and M’s role as simple board member multiplied overnight, and the responsibilities and weight that he carried added into the mix.  I worked late hours each week in long meetings and through stressful presentations in an effort to shape a beautiful, sustainable, functioning church out of our beautiful, dated, sometimes non-functioning one.  Sleep is vital, and we got little of it.

The spring brought words like “hospice” and “decline” into our lexicon, and in the span of just a few days we lost two of the most precious people in our lives.  I lost both of my girls’ namesakes.  It was a time when we could never be in the right place, and despite all of our family’s work throughout the years to remain connected to one another despite our geographical locations, when death comes those distances are magnified and wrought with pain.  In the moments of my deepest, most guttural pain I was alone – in the car, or in the air, surrounded by strangers, so far from home.  The moments of grief did not end, they came in waves.  Dear friends lost their baby, just a few days into this world.  We lost friends at church in an instant.  I attended more funerals in the middle of this year than I had in the entirety of my life.


The summer wore on with no vacation, no respite.  It was a bit of belt-tightening and a bit of practicality.  There simply wasn’t the money or the time.  We had started out the year full of hope for new projects to complete and tasks to finish.  Again, there simply wasn’t the money or the time.  The list of things that I needed to be working on never shortened, and the weight of those unfinished tasks became heavier and heavier.  I found that I could manage to stay on top of those things that needed to be done in the present, but the underlying things that needed to be done (or that I wanted to do) just never surfaced to the top.  I long ago mastered the art of taking photos of the everyday.  I almost daily upload them to my computer, sort and size them, post them and write about them.  But the photo albums that I had started for both grandmothers and both girls sat unfilled as the months and years ticked by.  The dropping off point was April 2009, and I know that it was because I was well into my pregnancy with the little one, and every waking moment spent outside of work and family was spent studying for an exam.  And then the baby came, and the months piled up, the task growing in size, becoming more daunting with each passing day.

The girls celebrated birthdays in late summer in true birthday style, and as the schedules and rituals of the school year started up I suddenly felt the urgent desire to get this one thing done – caught up – on track.  I made a chart on a clipboard of those months of photos and began going through the archives day by day.  Reviewing photos, making copies, sorting them into files for my mother, M’s mother, both girls, and a few for the photo wall in the hall so long out of date.  It’s a task that takes hours, it can be monotonous, but in little pieces in the evening it was manageable, and sometimes downright enjoyable.



And then something funny started to happen.


The two places that I found respite from the stress were Sunday mornings in church and in the late night hours sorting those photos on the computer.  After a very sudden and profound loss in our congregation, I remember the words of our pastor talking about those last moments he had spent with our friend, how mundane and ordinary and regular they were.  He talked about moments in his life where he had gone to his spiritual cupboard and it was bare.  I knew that feeling, I know that feeling.  This year had too many of those moments.  And I knew how difficult it was to articulate that feeling.  My real cupboards were not bare.  We are fortunate beyond belief in this way.  Missing a vacation is not missing a mortgage payment or a meal, but the strain of that bare cupboard of a soul can be just as debilitating.  I would fill that cupboard up on Sundays, and then spend weeknights looking back through those moments of our lives – the mundane, the ordinary, the regular.  And God, they are beautiful.  They are full of color and smiles, parks and playgrounds and books and food and family and celebrations and art and toys and school and music and joy.



And then I read this quote, and I have sung it in my head for the past few months, through all of the lettering and the cutting and the printing and the assembling.

For in the dew of little things, the heart finds its morning and is refreshed. 
Kahlil Gibran

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That was it.  I know that what I strive for most in this life is to enjoy those little things.  Those everyday moments that restore me, refresh me, give me the strength to keep going and moving and making and doing.  I feel the strain of the times, and I know you do to.  I talk about this with friends, with family.  It’s not been an easy road for anyone of late.  I hope that if I know you personally and you receive one of those frames in the mail that you will take a moment this holiday season to find an example of one of those “moments” to frame for yourself.  And if we just meet in this space, thank you for visiting.  Your presence here lifts me up daily, and I am always grateful to share these moments with you in this way.


Thank goodness for a season that reminds us to focus on the little things: the candlelight, the familiar carol, the tiny baby.  Thank goodness for the places that we can go to restock our spiritual cupboards: our sanctuaries, our gardens, our kitchens, our homes.  Thank goodness for those little things we make and do and share and love.
 
Happy Holidays to you and yours and best wishes for the New Year from the four of us.  I’ll meet you back here in 2012.