It’s that time of year again, when many people reflect on what redemption means. For those who practice Lent, this may mean taking part in fasting or giving something up. For many who don’t religiously participate, the Lenten season may still be a time of reflection. These challenging times are especially focused on what it means to be set free, both literally and spiritually.
Last night I had a nightmare that my husband, oldest daughter and I were in a car that was flung off a cliff. As the car descended, I told both of them that I loved them, and I reflected that I had a good life, if this should be the end. But I prayed frantically for a miracle. Then we landed- onto a thick black mat that seemed made of melted rubber, like children’s indoor commercial play-area flooring. The mat was floating on foamy water, as part of a landfill. Our car was nearly on the center of the mat. We had survived! My dream self said, (because we are alive) “We must be here for a reason.” Then, my awake self thought the same thing: We are alive. We must be here for a reason.
I spent the day doing more than I usually do. I am grateful to be here. Let every moment we’re here be heavy with purpose. May we treasure our time and our energy, lest our purpose be frittered away by the manufactured realities that others push on us. We were made for so much more than this. This Lenten season, let us reflect on what mercy is, and know that we are loved by God.
I finally finished my leftover project from before Christmas! Now you see why I was comparing having this painting on my easel in late January to taking down the Christmas tree late. It literally is a Christmas tree that, in canvas form, was sitting on my easel- which is in the kitchen of this small house- and staring at me every day! So, I thought by the time I got this done, I’d no longer care about it and neither would you, but the video is surprisingly cathartic to watch.
As I see the painting come alive in the magical time lapse fashion, it feels like a story. The music was rather random, but fit the emotion of the art perfectly- at least from the perspective I have at the moment. At first the music and the painting starts off as a pretty little thing, without much story to it. But then the music gets kind of odd and chaotic at the same time my video does too! What was happening during that part is that I was trying out my new tripod and my first attempt was a shambles. My head blocked a lot of the session. So, only parts of that session were usable (not a big deal, it wasn’t that important to skip ahead).
But it feels like the parts of Christmas that don’t live up to expectations, don’t go as planned, or maybe are a total disaster and are completely cut from the holiday. This year, we had plans to cook Cornish hens for Christmas dinner, but the refrigerator in the house we’re renting broke- completely dead. We had no refrigeration for weeks, as the process of getting management to send someone out, then having the repair guys say that it’s dead, and then getting approval for a new refrigerator, and then waiting for delivery people to bring it- well, it all takes time.
So for the entire Christmas week and all the way up to New Year’s, we had no place to thaw out the Cornish hens that were in our personally owned chest freezer we bought the LAST time the refrigerator went out (they repaired it that time but I knew it would simply die again later and I didn’t want to lose all our food again when it did!). The investment in the chest freezer was looking pretty wise, I must say! I froze everything I could, even raw eggs in baggies. Our food loss was very minimal.
We did buy a small refrigerator to get through this ordeal, otherwise we’d have had no refrigeration for the holidays (just the freezer). The mini fridge is too small for thawing Cornish hens, so that carefully laid plan for Christmas dinner fell apart. Because of this, I came up with Plan B, which was better than Plan A and will now be a regular thing, a new family tradition. I went with a Christmas morning breakfast that becomes a brunch as the morning turns into afternoon.
I had purchased a warming server to use over Thanksgiving and I realized it would be perfect for using on Christmas. So, here we have an example of how everything fell into place, but only after the frustration and stress of the broken refrigerator, which brought unpleasant emotions forward. I’m weary of living in a small rental house, but our life circumstances will keep us here for at least another Christmas, probably two.
I’ve had much worse cancellations of Christmas. It would take much more than a broken refrigerator to stop me from celebrating. There was the Christmas when Dad was terminally ill from cancer and I was dropped off at another family’s Christmas gathering while my parents were in the hospital for Dad’s chemo treatment.
I was fifteen years old and I remember feeling such awkwardness and humiliation to be the unexpected guest, sitting there while the family was exchanging presents (a large extended family gathering, most didn’t know who I was). The hosts (the only people I knew, friends of my parents) apparently felt compelled to wrap something up for me, and this was worse than if they didn’t. Or maybe not. That would have been horrible too, if sitting there overlooked and ignored. There was really no way to make things better. While strangers smiled at me while their eyes were filled with pity, I fumbled to unwrap whatever it is that they gave me as a token present. I don’t remember what it was.
Dad was hairless then and vomiting during meals. Mom wanted us to pretend we didn’t notice, so I was expected to eat normally even though vomiting noises were only a few feet away, as Dad was hurling into the kitchen sink while we ate. Nerves of steel, that’s what I had. Sometimes it makes me appear cold and detached, but that’s only how I get through a crisis.
We can never guarantee how we’d act in a situation, but in my own family- the one I’ve built as an adult- we are open and honest. I cannot imagine the dysfunction of expecting my children to eat normally while something that traumatic is happening. That’s just a snippet of course of what it was like to grow up while Dad was dying. Mom’s gone now. Otherwise I’d not feel comfortable saying even this much.
So, that’s Christmas for some of us. There are seasons of grief, dysfunction, anxiety, stress, and feeling alone even around others. I am always mindful of this when Christmas rolls around, and I try to help others see the beauty that I do- Christmas is a time marker. We are only asked to “be”. When we do this, we greet Christmas with the hope of the new year to come, regardless of whether or not the current year was good, bad, or in-between.
Back to the video… the music then changes to a calm, sentimental rhythm. And that’s how I feel about Christmas. As it unfolds, whatever stress and expectations we had start to ease up. When it does, we may feel depleted, depressed, tired, or simply relieved. We may feel content. The pace has shifted. The world is no longer running full speed ahead, pushing us to feel something, pushing us to honor our traditions, pushing us to take time off from our regular routine. Everything’s getting back to normal. It will soon be a new year, and an ordinary day.
It may be then that we truly feel Christmas for the first time, when we see it as a pretty picture, cozy and warm with memories of the past- comforted that the past is behind us and the present is here. There is a moment of reflection, and perhaps a recommitment to our faith . We want to be safe, protected, successful, and loved. We want the same for our loved ones. And that’s what we try to express with our Christmas trees and dessert coffees. The desire for Christmas doesn’t go away when Christmas ends.