I had two competing ideas in my head as I moved into this holiday season. The first was centered around the idea of time, and how much of our (free) time has been spent on the design and drawings for our upcoming house project. I had ambitious expectations at the start of the year that we’d be able to get through that process by fall, but the complexities of the work and the various approvals and hearings we had to prepare for and get through, meant that the work continued through the late fall and even into this holiday season. After Thanksgiving passed, I had to make a decision – do I stop working on the house project for a period of time and dive into the holiday card making process, or do I forgo that tradition (now seventeen years long) and stay in house project mode? Neither option seemed appealing.
Then I remembered an earlier goal of 2016 – that I wanted to build a physical model of the original house and the new additions. I had purchased the supplies to do so, but I never made it past that point. The various boards were repurposed throughout the year – for science projects and art posters and soiree signs – all of those things that keep us busy and active in any given year. There’s more than one lesson there, but the clearest takeaway for me is that my time is finite and I can only do what I can do and no more. It’s been a good exercise for me – understanding where I can do good work and am needed, and focusing my attention there, but also letting some other things go.
This is a good practice for the holiday season, and I took the time to think through all of the joys – and demands – that there are during the month of December. I selected the ones that were important to our family, to me, and that I could contribute in a meaningful way, and I put those on the calendar. And then I politely declined on the rest. The cards were at the top of that list, and so I decided that maybe I could incorporate my work on the house into the work of the cards with the idea that sometimes efficiency can yield beauty. The tradition of card making is accepted in our family – I’m granted the space and the freedom to immerse myself in the process, and over the years that has become my favorite gift of the season. It connects me to others in ways that they may never understand, but it’s important to me. Having that space to work quietly and creatively is a respite in the bustle. So I decided to build a model of the house and then share those images with others.
The second of those two competing ideas was the idea of finding comfort in a season (and year) that has been very uncomfortable. I could approach the idea of this year’s card as a symbol of comfort and peace – our home – but that idea felt like it was turning away from the real stress and worry and discomfort of the world around us. For as I focused this year on simplifying things – commitments, acquisitions, relationships – I also worked to broaden the narrative as well – to get out of my comfort zone and push myself into work that is important and needed. Much of that work will happen outside of my house, my family, this life that we’ve created and love. So I didn’t want to create a card with such an insular focus.
I remembered the card I had made in 2007 during another period of uncertainty and stress. It featured an ink drawing of the front of our house. I cut out strips of paper to add some dimension to the cornice and mansard roof details, and I made a stamp of a Christmas wreath and added it to the center of the house. I included this message on the front:
it does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work.
it means to be in the midst of these things and still be calm in your heart.
Reading that message again hit right at the heart of what I was trying to do – how I connected the idea of the work of home branching out into the work of the world. We can do both, we try to do both. M and I view this project as a way of bringing to life the work that we do in our professions for our girls at home in a way that they can see and touch and experience. We want to instill in them the idea that there is a process to making things – space, a home, a life. If you take the time to understand the things that are important and are worth celebrating, then the work has a focus and a drive that can help you get through the work ahead of you.
But we also want them to understand the other work that we do, and that they can do, in the world outside these old (and new) walls. I want the girls to understand that we can make a strong commitment to our neighborhood (by planting firm roots within it), to our schools (by being active supporters), to our church (by participating and volunteering in important social justice and education work), to our city and nation and world (in a list too lengthy to include). There is noise, there is trouble, there is hard work. There is so much of it. It overwhelms me at most times.
I needed this card this year. I needed this process. I needed to spend the advent season reflecting on the corners and moments of our home that make me feel calm. I needed to think through and understand how I can energize myself to do the work ahead.
It is my greatest wish for you that you find both the energy and calm within yourselves and your homes to do this work ahead as well. I wish you peace in the coming year, and I look forward to working with you all.
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