Dec 27, 2014

A Quiet Resolve

"The highway signs say we're close,
But I don't read those things anymore.
I never trusted my own eyes."
-Stubborn Love by The Lumineers

A year in review?

I don't know.

I don't know what I'm closer to, or what I'm farther from.

My heart is so much happier, and so much more full of ache.

I am older and wiser, but I wish I could be younger and oh-so-naive again.

Maybe everything is changing, or maybe it's tortuously the same.

I know more of what I want, and less of how to get it.

I can't make sense of most of what I've seen this year. And maybe it doesn't matter, now that it's ending, and being replaced by a shiny 2015, with glitter and flashbulbs to assure me that this is the year. This time I'll figure it out. This time I'll know. The confetti will shower me in an avalanche of goals and resolutions that will outshine all the regrets and broken promises.

Sometimes, I feel like a boat in an ocean with no land in sight. Because I can control what I do. But there are seven billion other people in seven billion other boats, and I can't control any of them. And there are big storms that come out of nowhere, it seems. And boats are kind of lonely things anyway.

There are times when I blaze into a new year full of wild hope and bubbly excitement, as if I'd toasted the whole bottle of champagne to myself. There are others where I simply pray a silent prayer in the dark, waiting until everyone has gone to sleep and it's just me in the blankets, staring up at God in a kind of hesitant wonder. We have a long, but mostly wordless talk. And for the most part, I just tell Him that I don't know. I don't know. My best prayers are probably when I keep my mouth closed.

I've had thirty years of these midnights, of the calendar rolling to a new page. They no longer seem worthy of sequined dresses or noisemakers. Instead, they tend to arrive without any fanfare at all. The Christmas decorations look outdated and out of place already. The ball dropping in New York is too far away from a small town in central Illinois farmland.

And anyway, isn't that what the Midwest is known for- a quiet resolve? A steadfast determination? No matter the weather, the farmers have to sow and reap at some point. You do what has to be done. There is a beauty in that, even though it's mostly lost in the world today.

So 2015 will find me doing what has to be done, whatever that may be. I will love my children. I will finish school. I will cook our meals and make our trips to the library. I will sit in the hallway during her ballet class, and console him after his immunizations. I will laugh and I will cry. I will sing along with the radio. I will read lots of board books and mourn for time to read from my own shelf. I will try to make the holidays happy. I will buy hair dye in a box. I will revel and glory in fall's return. I will celebrate birthdays and marvel at new accomplishments. I will get a new pair of shoes, and pay taxes, and discover new recipes. I will still check on them at night. I will get teased for the amount of photos I take of anything and everything. I will stay up too late and wish for time to sleep in. I will write.

I will do the small things that constitute this life, a life that feels small, but one that God sees nonetheless. And even though I don't know, He does. For now, I go to bed and wake up again.

Dec 20, 2014

A Beautiful Paradox

"Christmas is built upon a beautiful and intentional paradox; 
that the birth of the homeless should be celebrated in every home." 

I cannot tell you the presents I received for Christmas when I was younger. Oh, there were a couple things, maybe- the contact lenses that meant I was free from a junior high life of glasses and braces. And there was a warm, pink plaid bathrobe. We had a tradition of unwrapping one gift on Christmas Eve and in a moment of serendipity, I picked that one. I remember going to bed wrapped up in that cozy robe, feeling so please with myself that I had picked the best one to open that night by the tree. But other than the odd tin of candy from my grandpa, or the aunt who liked to give me clothes two sizes too big, I can't name five things that were given to me.

The cookies, however, I remember. The sugar cookies that we loved to decorate for a chance to sneak drips of icing. The candy canes we'd hang on the tree with the oversized, old fashioned, multi-colored bulbs, and the mismatched ornaments, and the tinsel. The way our presents were often wrapped in comic strips from the newspaper. The knit stockings that were impossible to coax the candy out of, and the family that would visit that week. The way we would always read the Christmas story from Luke before we'd open a single thing.

This is the time of year that I love most. But this week is always full of mixed emotions for me. I see the photos of a tree stacked with presents so tall, I can barely see the tree at all. I see the gushings over a new designer bag, a fancy camera, or even a new car (do people actually think those commercials with the big red bow on the car are a great suggestion?). It reminds me that it's time to back away from social media for a week or so, until the materialistic rhapsodizing has calmed.

I don't know it it's because these people have no sweet memories of their childhood Christmases. Maybe they truly know no other way to be happy than to accumulate more possessions. Or maybe it's because they don't realize the great needs of those in their own city or their country, and how many people awake to a small, government owned apartment with no tree, no presents, and no breakfast. I suspect it could be those things, or maybe, it is that they do not remember the reason Christmas is here.

(photo courtesy of Dimock Images)
I hope Millie and Walter wake with joy that morning. I hope they appreciate a new book or a dress up doctor's coat. I hope they even have vague memories of believing in Santa Claus and dreaming of reindeer on the roof. But far, far beyond that, I hope they realize, especially as they grow, that Christmas is not about what we've tied up with yarn and topped with bows. I hope they realize that we have so much compared to many others in the world. I hope they have giving hearts that feel compelled to share and give, at this time of year and always.

And more than anything, I hope they grow in the knowledge that Christmas is about a simple night, with a birth in a barn, with a new family out in the cold. I hope they teach their children about the angels singing, and the wise men bringing their finest, and how a newborn grew to become a man who was nailed to a tree because he loved us more than life. I hope that they celebrate in a way that gives honor to that night. I hope they hear the words of those old Christmas carols and shed a tear or two in the beauty of it all.

Merry Christmas, friends. May your hearts be full of blessings.

Dec 4, 2014

The Show

"What's past is prologue." 

I haven't written about you in a while.

Two nights ago, we went to a play. You wore a tie and asked for help on deciding which silver tie clip to wear. You wrapped the scarf around your neck even though you didn't like it. I curled my hair and put on a little black dress and tights, dabbing red lipstick on my lips and spritzing on a rose perfume that you bought for me long ago. I found my heels in the back of the closet, and tried to walk without stumbling. You opened the car door for me. It'd been probably two years since the last time we did this or anything even close to it.

The two of us shared a pasta dish at a dimly lit Italian place. We rolled our eyes at the overbearing waiter, and savored the tiramisu. We ordered water to save money and ate copious amounts of those little bread slices, dripping with oil and Parmesan. We talked about what comes next in our lives: hopefully, your promotion and my graduation. All the talk was about the future.

At the show, we watched silently, thoughtfully. I wanted to close my eyes and somehow absorb the voices as they rose and fell in "Oh, Holy Night". Echos of the refrain reached to the ceiling and back to my chair. The tenderness of the story and beauty of the music was nearly heartbreaking. I had forgotten that heartbreak could have such a lovely, sweet edge to it.

And then, after the show, we stopped by the cafe on the other side of the road, glittering with Christmas lights in the windows. I used to spend moody nights there, drinking something warm and sugary, talking with a friend or writing private thoughts that I hoped would be public someday. It's strange how we leave parts of ourselves in every place we visit.

Sometimes I have dreams about the boy I had a crush on in elementary school. I wonder what life would look like if he was the one who sat beside me at that show. And I know there are girls in your past that you wonder about, too. All the people we thought we would spend life with fell away somehow- maybe they walked away, or maybe we did- and now it's you and I standing here. It almost feels like it was just chance. Maybe it was. We certainly can't say that this was our plan, to meet while you were across the globe and I was afraid for your life. Now we find ourselves with wedding rings and babies five years later.

Everyone likes to caution that marriage is hard, although they say that padded in phrases about how wonderful and rewarding it is. They never tell you why it's hard. They never tell you what that feels like. They talk about the lights and forget all the shadows.

We have been to lows that I didn't know existed. We have tasted the kind of bitterness and ache that is hard to write about it. The battle- because, dear God, it is a battle- is fought on steeper ground each year that these rings stay on our fingers.

It was a little easier, that night at the show. It was a little remembrance of where we started, and the laughter we had, and the drinks that made us dizzy, and the love. The love.

There were many people at the play, crowding around us in their seats with jewelry sparkling, perfume behind their ears, and programs on their lap. They were listening to the chords rising and falling just like we did. I wonder if they saw the trail of our years behind us. Their shadows, crumbled and tired. I wonder if they realized that as the story of the World War One Christmas truce was being performed on that stage, you and I had a truce of our own.

I don't know if we were meant to be here. I don't really understand the way God works, or what twists and turns should have happened, or if this is the master plan. But we are here, still. And it will be five years soon. I can't say I haven't given up, but I've stayed in spite of it, and you're still here, too.

My wish is that this new year will be merry and bright. My hope is that we stop trying to grasp for what we can't ever get back, and begin trying to live in a new way, with new memories and a new foundation. I am the kind of girl who clings to the old, but let's stop. The old is gone.

Let's pretend that we met at that show. Let it be our holy night. Let it be the first day. And there was light.

Start there.
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