The Christmas Thing.

I tripped on two grocery bags in the middle of my dining room on the way over to the computer.  Our bags from our weekend trip litter the kitchen floor.  Our Christmas tree stopped taking water last week and the branches are getting closer and closer to the ground.  I ordered groceries on line because we’re hosting Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas morning brunch and I was positive I didn’t have the energy to push the cart today with a cranky three year old.  I have too many last minute gifts to buy on a cup of coffee budget, I have two baskets of laundry just waiting to be put away and somehow what I swear I will not let creep in every year with all of it’s noise of expectations and disappointments and ideals and Hallmark card sentiments is staring me right in the face.

Bah- humbug.

It’s this that I hate- the pressure of the days before.  The checking the bank account every few hours to see if something cleared.  To see how much is left after it does. The last shopping trip never being the last shopping trip as I seem to forget everything this time of year.  The thought of the elderly alone, the children with no parents, the parents with no means, the hungry and hopeless.  The whirlwind of whose day is whose, who is coming at what time- how to be fully present and not watch the clock for the next Christmas shift.  How to live in the glory of Christ’s birth and not suffer pangs of those I love that I couldn’t buy for, be with, love on.  It’s these last few days before- no matter how much I have let go of my own expectations the weeks prior- it’s in the crunch time that shines a light on my real lack of progress.

It’s all a bit too much, this Christmas thing.  I want to love it every year, even like it a little bit more than the last, but I never do.

So, I’m officially not going to try anymore this year. I’m letting myself off the hook.  I don’t have to like it.  I don’t have to like all the hoopla that goes along with the Christmas season.  I don’t have to work extra hard to make homemade gifts or yeasted cookies that take two days to assemble. I don’t have to stay awake for days wondering what the perfect gift would be. I don’t have to like putting ornaments on the tree or even watching Christmas movies.  I don’t have to.

We went to Philly this past weekend and attended a little Christmas concert put on by the students who attend the private school my SIL works for.  It was a beautiful old church with candles and wreaths and red ribbons, and the children sang with hope in great big choirs about peace, and love, and the Christ child.  Their parents and staff talked about loving their city well and we all went back out into the cold believing that they would.  Love each other well.

I can get behind that kind of Christmas thing.

The other things can go.

On Prayer

Give us this day our daily bread.

I have been reading Keller’s new book on prayer.  I know, I know.  So is everyone else you know, I’m sure.  But I will freely admit that it may the slowest I have ever read a book in my life.  I’ve had to renew it from the library twice already.  I got stuck somewhere in between Chapters where he talks about our status as sons and daughters, and how Martin Luther prayed the Lord’s Prayer several times a day.  Well, what’s good for Martin Luther must be good for me, eh? So I started doing it, too.

Humanly, I regret it.

It’s hard.

It’s hard not to immediately enter the throne room and shout my concerns at God’s face until I’m positive no one could ignore my noise.  It’s hard to begin with adoration when my heart is full of concern.  It’s hard to start with His kingdom, His will, when what I really want is to bend HIS will toward MINE and hope against hope He takes pity on me and they align.  It’s a pretty revealing road to take, this studying prayer thing.

I’ve noticed the majority of my “prayer life” is rather just, “worrying in God’s direction”. I don’t want to just ask for our daily bread.  I want to stock up at Trader Joes for at least two weeks.  I want to roll out of there with two carts.  I want the reassurance that tomorrow won’t be as hard as today.  I want the promise that he’ll pay all of my debt, that my car will start, that my kid won’t get sick, forever and ever amen.

I have plenty of gratitude- this past year has taught me that.  I don’t have to remember to thank Him for all he’s done- for waking and sleeping, for meals and hugs and twinkle lights and jobs that pay and people who love.  But my worrying far outweighs my gratitude.  My daily bread isn’t enough.  I am a greedy daughter.

So, I am practicing.

You are my Papa and you are holy. Your work is my first priority. Forgive me, help me forgive them. Help me do better, be better, look like you.  Provide what we need today.  Help me trust you will take care of tomorrow. Help me not fall backward in the ways I’ve left behind.  Rescue me from every evil, big and small because I’m your kid.  All I have is yours, all power comes from you, all the glory is yours.

My First Corporate Letter

Dear Whole Foods,

You don’t know me, but you should.  I have basically lived out every one of life’s milestone’s in your store.  I bought the ingredients for the first meal I ever cooked for other people with you.  My kid went to the big girl potty all by herself for the first time in your rest room.  I drop close to a mortgage payment a month feeding my family with your products.

But this is not a letter to complain about your prices.  Look, I’m an informed consumer.  I have a degree and access to the internet.  I have a pretty expansive, self-taught breadth of nutritional knowledge.  I know my options- I choose you.  I believe that food is medicine.  I believe the investment in good food will pale in comparison to if I had not invested in our health in this way.  I also would like it if my daughter would hold off on puberty until at least the 5th grade, or my husband will go into pre-mature cardiac arrest.  (No hormones in our meat, please and thank you.)  We care about where our food comes from, we care about how it’s treated, we care about how our farmers get paid, we care how we cook and serve it to people we love.

We’re picking up what you’re putting down, WF.  We’re behind you 100%.

But I can’t go in one of your stores today.

Wanna know why?

My generally darling three year daughter’s body was hijacked by an alien with clear instructions to kill me.  I have spent all day- and when Mamas say all day, they mean from the time their angels woke up (6:55) to WHATEVER TIME IT IS NOW BECAUSE WE CANT SEE BECAUSE WEVE HAD NO COFFEE OR ANY REAL MEALS OR TIME TO PEE- trying to placate her rebelling soul.  I have sat on the bathroom floor with her for TWO HOURS with her constipated self force feeding her apple juice and oatmeal (both 365 brand, by the way) and have consoled her the rest of the 6 hours she’s been awake by reading, rocking, snuggling, bribing, ignoring, pleading and crying and her still REFUSING TO TAKE A F-ING NAP.  I finally threw her in the car with the idea that what we could both use is a safe, treat (gelato for her, a coconut milk latte for me) and to pick up a few things we need at your store.

But of course you know what that little booger did.  She fell asleep as soon as I put my car in park in the best damn parking spot I’ve ever gotten.  Ever.  And I am now sitting, staring at your delightfully aromatic ( I imagine) rosemary Christmas trees.  Your soft, butter-yellow glow blurring in the rain that is now coming down in torrents. And cursing you and why you, in all of your granola-Glory haven’t already rectified this situation.  So close.  So far.

So, here it is WF.  I’m glad to represent all Mamas everywhere who are, even now sitting in their cars while their demon children sweetly slumber in the backseat.

We drive out of our way to get to you.  We’re all up in that Nordic Kids aisle. We snap up those classroom friendly brownies like a single girl at a wedding grabs the bouquet. You’d never hear so much as a whimper about your (ridiculous), 37.00 head of broccoli.  We cough up 146.36 for 3 items on the conveyor belt.

Do us a solid and build us a drive through.  It can’t be that hard.  You import coffee from Africa for God’s sake and pay harvesters a decent wage.  Build the damn thing.

And if you can’t, at least have curbside service.  I’d do heinous things for the welcome sight of a little green apron jogging my way through the rain with a cup of your curried lentil and spinach soup and a carton of eggs.  Heinous.

Sincerely,

A very hungry, pretty-stressed out but still crunchy, Mama

(basically, your entire consumer population.)

My Advent, Day 1

I’m going to be brave and wear mixed prints sometimes, because I think it’s fun.

I’m going to wear red lipstick first thing in the morning, before I even have my coffee so it can leave that pretty red ring around my white mug that looks like a rose in winter.

I’m going to snuggle with my daughter, cozy in my bed for an extra half hour watching the sun cast pinks and oranges on her blonde hair even if it means I’ll have to skip a shower and breakfast before going to work and school.

I’m never going to shout in anger.  My voice and intention are clear enough without frightening with volume.

I will limit my “no’s” and my “not nows” and my “hurry ups”.  Goodness knows Mamas MUST say these things sometimes, but not more than our “yes’s” and “I would love to do that with you’s” and our “take your time’s”.

I will wake up and put my feet on the cold floor and hear the hiss of the radiator and be filled with gratitude for this old house.  This roof.  This shelter. The kiss of the shower.  The hot cup of coffee.

I will know that home is wherever my people are.

I will not be afraid to put holes in the wall to hang things I love.  To paint a table. To buy a dress in a color that I wouldn’t normally wear. This house, this body was entrusted to me.  I have the liberty to decide what to do with it.

I will not be afraid to love the messy or undefined.  I will not be afraid to say, “I don’t know”.  I will never hesitate to pray.  To hold a hand.  To stand beside.  I am not afraid of what they might say.

I will cry tears of joy when my bank account shows 20.00, 100.00, 1,000.00 and and all variations in between.  My God is the God of provision and He knows what I need.  He has made 20.00 feel like thousands.

I will see every opportunity as a sweet reminder of God’s unfailing love- not as an end to itself.  I own nothing, I have nothing that is not His.

I’m going to go to work confidently, praying even now over the lives of children I know and have yet to meet and when I come home, I will be fully home; heart, mind, strength.  This is a gift.

I am going to repeat that over and over again before I throw off the covers.  Before I open my eyes.  This is a gift.  This life I have.

A beautiful gift filled with family and friend-family and grace and mercy and peace and Peppermint Mochas and little girl giggles.

I’m going to tell my little one about a baby in a manger who was the Great Rescuer who came to us.  For us.

Then I’m going to live like I mean it.  Every word.  His gift to us.

Thanks

November is a month of celebration for us.  I recognize that for us Americans, that’s a fairly typical thing to say.  This is the proclaimed month of thankfulness.  Where we make little pilgrim hats we force our kids to wear and grill them to say that they’re thankful for their family when asked, instead of the weird Lalaloopsy doll that poops out charms.  (If you know what I’m talking about, I hope you are equally as disturbed as I am that 1. They make such a thing 2. My daughter wants one desperately.)

This is our one year anniversary of God’ great stirring in our hearts.  A year ago, we were in debt, we weren’t meeting any ends, we were sad, discouraged, burned out, unbelieving that without a miracle things would ever change for us.

A year ago this week I spent my last 34.56 on a Thanksgiving dinner without knowing how I would feed my family the following week.  I had stopped answering my phone to avoid collection calls.  We were locked in this cycle, this view of who were, this idea that this is all there is and we must make the best of it.

As I made preparations this week for dinner tomorrow, my heart was full.  Standing in line at the grocery store, cash in hand, I remembered where we were last year.  We learned so much more than how to better manage our money, our time and our hearts.  We really learned what it means to love and be loved.  By Christ, by his people, within our marriage.

To say I am thankful doesn’t do the transformation in our household justice.  But I am.

Prepared

It is the time of year when everyone is ordering organic, free range, heritage turkeys, measuring their window sills for appropriate birch branch twinkle lights, counting the weeks necessary to make vanilla extract for Christmas gifts and the money already dwindling in their bank accounts.  Amidst all the good cheer and the festive return of eggnog, there is a sinking feeling that hits me a week before all the activities begin.  It’s the same feeling I’d get when I walked into a classroom about to take an exam I knew I didn’t really study for.  It’s the feeling of being unprepared.

I haven’t ordered the turkey.  I didn’t make bone broth all this week in order to use it next week.  I didn’t buy the jars for the vanilla extract, I’ve only gotten Christmas shopping done for my immediate little family, I haven’t even considered the side dishes or tablescapes.  Pinterest and Facebook and Instagram with it’s lovely staged photographs of light snow falling on red barns and little girls with black muffs and red topcoats sends chills right to my bones.  Last year, we learned what Christmas meant.  What it really meant.  Stripped down to nothing, we weren’t sure if we could pay to keep the heat on in our house let alone gifts, or dinner or decorations.

I have sat in my dining room and have cried all this week with how God has blessed us this year…….at this time last year, the world felt so hopeless, but Jesus felt so near.  We were tired, we were broke, we were scared.  Exactly a year later, we are still in the house I thought we might lose, wearing clothing without holes, have a full refrigerator of food and with God’s grace, $10,000.00 less in debt.  I have purchased two lovely, thoughtful gifts that will go under the tree this year for the two people I love most in the world and God is so good.

I am fighting the unpreparedness this year.  Last year it was easy to ignore- we couldn’t afford anything and therefore, it made it simple to overlook. But this year, I am moderating the holiday sites, throwing out the catalogs.  We will be reading The Jesus Story Book Bible for the 24 days of advent this year.  We will welcome folks to our table.  We will sing and laugh and be more concerned with how prepared our hearts are than our Christmas tree.

But I make no promises about the twinkle light birch branches.  They’re so adorable.

The Right One

I missed my train.  It rarely ever happens, and it wouldn’t have today save they were doing work on the usual eastbound track and had to switch to the other side not leaving me any time or space to make it with one minute remaining.  I won’t lie, I cursed a little and then walked over to my favorite little hole in the wall diner where they know me by name, ask how El’s doing and pour me a cup of very, very dark coffee at the counter.  I dawdled for a little less than an hour, musing in silent prayer that I’m sure there was a reason why I had to miss this particular train before deciding to get going a bit early to stand outside on the RIGHT side of the track, sure not to miss it this time.

I saw a middle-aged man sitting across the track from me on a bench, but as my vision was obstructed by the fence that runs between the two tracks, I didn’t give him much notice.  Everything was so quiet today.  Eerily so, as the weather shifted and I scrolled through screens of Facebook updates and Instagram photos of other people who actually made it to their jobs today, and on time, too!  I heard a shout, an unnerving one and I did my best to ignore it at first.  Being a woman, alone, from New Jersey, working in NYC, my world is full of unwelcome, mostly unnecessary shouting.  You learn to keep your head down, mind your business, walk forward quickly and hold your keys.

But there was something different about this shout and fear spread cold in my stomach as I bargained with God- please not me.  Not me.  I’m afraid. I am the only one here. I am not the right one for something like this.  And I heard in my heart a clear, simple “For such a time as this.”

I looked up to see only the man’s shoes from beneath the fence, laying on the platform and I went running, dialing 911 on my way. When I got there he was unresponsive, bleeding heavily from the mouth, waking in fits and starts grasping for a hand, afraid. He couldn’t speak through the blood pooling, couldn’t remember his name.  And as I sat there next to him on the phone with the dispatcher waiting for the ambulance to arrive I prayed for his heart, for his pain, for his family if he had one.  I couldn’t say anything other than the assurance that he would be just fine.  I just repeated it over and over, speaking it into existence for him and for me.   The paramedics arrived quickly, I was pushed aside and he was whisked away without me ever finding out if he would be alright.

The entire experience left me shattered today.  Wondering if he made it or not.  What if I was one minute too late? What if my 20 second inner wrestle with my fear was 20 seconds too long? I see his face when I close my eyes; his panic, his confusion, his blood and I think, I was not the one for this.  I was not the right one.

And then my husband greets me at the door and holds me as I cry and I remember a quiet Jewish woman who saved a people as Queen and a small shepherd who defeated a Giant and a baby in a basket and the Father of Nations and I know for sure that I was not the right one on my own.

But I am His.

And He is always the Right One.

Parenting a Perfectionist

(The halting plucking of piano keys in the background with a little voice whispering, “C,D,F- ahhh no! That’s wrong!” over and over again until a meltdown ensues on the floor.)

My daughter, much to my delight, has expressed a deep interest in learning the piano.  She’s three and a half which is, in fact, the most perfect age for learning anything that takes a lifetime to master.  I already had grand visions of Carnegy Hall and long black dresses, of plaited hair and velvet ribbons, of Beethoven and Bach.  But first, the basics.  She mastered the identification of the treble and bass clefs.  Understood the basic layout of the keyboard.  Can read and identify the notes C,D, and E on a staff.  But, when it came to her fingers playing what her eyes were reading, it was a little more difficult than anticipated- for her- and that, that was a huge problem.

As soon as Ellie was able to walk and speak, everything she attempted she had to do well or she would meltdown.  I’m not talking about a tantrum or a fit, I’m talking, deep disappointment within herself that manifests in sorrowful crying, moaning, “I just can’t do it right.  Why can’t I do anything right?”

We’ve tried to combat this by always encouraging the attempt and not so much the performance.  We try to emphasis how much she is loved and how proud we are of her when she tries- not just when she gets it right.  But she comes from a strong lineage of parents who have both throughout their lives refused to do anything unless success was guaranteed.  We never thought how our pride and tendencies to “earn our keep” or “save face” would affect our offspring.

We’ve never done this before.  This parenting thing.  This parenting a little “us” thing.  We’re not really sure how to walk this thing out.  A thing we were never really sure how to walk out ourselves.  But we’re trying to remember about grace, about abundant grace, about a faith not based on works, about a God who loves us for who we are and not what we can do.  Hopefully if we can get it down ourselves, she’ll catch on.

Your Circus

photo (1)Rich and I had been looking forward to a day off for weeks.  His overtime schedule has been intense for the last ten weeks and we have really been missing out on some serious family time.  But, as things go, our little one got pretty sick this week.  Like smoker’s cough that leads to puking all over the second set of pajamas for the night sick.  After a night of some pretty solid sleeping (for her), we asked her what she might like to do for the day, thinking it might be fun to see a movie or go to the mall for a bit just to get out of the house.  She thought for a minute, coughed into her elbow and said, “I think we’ll go to the circus today.”

Not, I would like to go to the circus or would you please take me to the circus or wouldn’t it be fun if we could go to the circus? But, I think we WILL go to the circus today.

I didn’t even know she knew what the circus was.  Neither Rich or I had ever been, nor had we ever spoken to her about it.  It was never something we even day dreamed about taking her to : the theater, a major league baseball game, yes.  Circus? No.  We didn’t even know if there was one to take her to.

I, ever the optimist, told my husband no right off the bat.  It was indulgent. She was sick.  She was coughing pretty badly still.  She would miss a much needed nap.  We’d never get tickets this late in the game.  We don’t even know if there is a circus anywhere to take her to.  She’d never make it there, anyway.  She’d wiggle.  She’d get bored.  She’d get sicker.  It would be too expensive.

We researched.  The Big Apple Circus was in Lincoln Center.  He said we could make the early show.  I told him that was ridiculous.  We’d never make it without rushing.  The transportation would be expensive.  I’d have to pack her a lunch and a blanket and tissues and meds.  We’d end up having to carry her all around the upper west side.  We’d never get tickets at the door 15 minutes before the show began.  He listened calmly as he grabbed a handful of stuff, our sneezing kid in his other hand and told me to get in the car.

His daughter was sick and asked something of him without thinking of the difficulties, the hoops he’d have to jump through or what it would cost to get there.  She just trusted that he was her Papa and that nothing was impossible for him. For that moment it didn’t matter if we had to take out a second mortgage, if he had to continue overtime for the next three months. Love makes you do indulgent things. Love is important.  We WILL go to the circus.  He will make it happen.

And he did.

I wish I could put into words the delight on her face during the two hour show.  It felt as though it both lasted all day and was only a few minutes long.  She gasped and clapped and emulated bows and “tadas!” Her eyes sparkled with acrobats and contortionists and live camels and wild horses.  Her heart was so full of joy, we could hardly watch the show and not her little face and I was the creep at the circus with tears streaming down her face as little God whispers filled my soul to the brim.

Love is indulgent.  Grace abounds.  This is how He feels when He looks at you, at us, when we are full of joy.  If it is the desire of your little heart, Christ moves mountains to get you to your circus.

She did fall asleep on the way home but not before thanking her Papa for taking her on the “best circus day ever”.  What a sweet, sweet reminder of how much we are loved, and that our requests are always heard- perhaps not always answered in the most direct way that this one was, but He always hears, always cares about what you long for, and His heart is full when yours is.

Stand Next to Her

When I was in my early twenties, newly graduated from college, newly married, still childless, I remember watching an interaction between mother and son who may have been about three at the mall.  He was wailing, holding onto her leg in a kraken-like death grip and she was using the “hushed and harsh” tones of a Mama who had had just about enough.  She grabbed his arms quickly and snapped him up into her arms where she mimicked his python squeeze and talked forcefully directly into his face while he wriggled and verbally complained.  Something about wanting a pretzel.  And a soda.  And a stuffed Nemo from the Disney Store.  And I walked by in all of my twenty-four year old wisdom, my years of experience as a nanny which certainly qualifies me as a Star caretaker, my notebooks full of anecdotes and prescriptions from legalistic teachings about how to train up a child in the way they should go and I believe I nearly clucked my teeth out loud in disgust at that poor woman who struggled with her, dare I say it, “brat”.  I felt pity for her for not participating in the active and ongoing life lesson called parenthood in the appropriate manner that I studied so much about.

I was such a self-righteous ass.

I stood across the aisle from that lady when I should have been standing beside her.

After having had that experience more times than I can count at various public places, I am now the woman young ladies roll their eyes at as they walk by.  Pshhh.  They could raise a baby in their sleep.  How hard could it be to control yourself a little? Gah.

So, to that poor lady who absorbed all the brunt of my youthful ignorance, I just want to say, I’m sorry.

I didn’t know your kid decided to wake you up at 4 a.m. by sticking both of his thumbs in your cornea.

I didn’t know it took another half hour for him to resettle himself in your bed only to pee in it an hour later.

I didn’t know that you really struggled whether or not to wake him or just deal with the wet sheets as long as he’s quiet.

I didn’t know that you were out of milk that morning and he demanded it and you want to be a good and loving Mama so you dragged him out in his pj’s to get a carton of milk and to pick out a donut just for fun.

I didn’t know that he spent the entire ride home covering his pants with chocolate frosting or that later in the day it got warm and leaked out all over the medical paperwork you had piled up in the backseat.

I didn’t know that he hadn’t said anything that wasn’t a whine all day no matter what disciplinary tactic you used.

I didn’t know you resorted to taking him to the mall because if he said your name one more time in the confines of your house you were afraid the walls would cave in and swallow you whole and you would just die.

I didn’t know you hadn’t had time for a meal, or a shower, that you locked yourself in the bathroom twice already so you could cry or that no one even asked you how you were doing today.

I didn’t see the kisses you place on his brow each time he falls asleep, no matter how much of a brat he was.

Mamas struggle.  Parenting is hard. We are all so quick to judge, to separate into factions.  To point fingers, click teeth and hand out pamphlets on how things could be done better.  Wouldn’t it be better if we just sat next to each other in solidarity?

The next time I see a meltdown Mama, I’m just going to buy her a latte and ask her to sit with me. She’ll be so exhausted, she’ll probably agree. We’ll watch her kid throw a fit together so she doesn’t have to go it alone and then we’ll pick up and move on with our day like it’s the most normal thing in the world to support another Mama doing the best she can.  Because it is.  Hopefully someday, we’ll act like it.