Saturday, November 30, 2013

December Is for Crafting

Warning: I'm going to get all Pinterest-y up in here, so beware, this place just turned into Hobby Lobby.

Which happens to be where I bought all of my fun supplies.

A little known side effect to consuming turkey is that it triggers the release of craft-y-mone (a recently discovered hormone), which is why Hobby Lobby can afford to list all of their Christmas products at 50% off the day after Thanksgiving... they know we'll be out looking for scrapbook paper and glitter glue.

After the success of last year's magical advent season, I decided, in spite of the holiday doldrums, to continue the advent activities tradition this year.

Here's what I did (and here comes the Pinterest-ready photos... har har har):

After I managed to pry my fingerprints off with the double-sided foam tape that came with the 12x12 corkboard squares, I stuck 'em up on the wall in a mostly square square.  For the more anal retentive among us, I suggest a thingy with the bubble in it that makes sure things are level -- oh! there it is, the device we professionals call a "level."

Pretty Paper
There once was a time when I used scrapbook paper to scrapbook, but those days are gone like a freight train, gone like yesterday.  Now, I will be purchasing seasonal squares of scrapbook paper as background material for my boards o' cork and using them for kids' pictures and other super-fun Mommy kind of things.  If I didn't have this turkey triggered craft-y-mone, I might have just stopped here because I think this is just about the cleverest little display I've ever conjured.  But wait, there's more!

Advent Activity Tags
Using some multi-brown colored cardstock to match the kitchen decor, I cut out some Christmas-y shapes, like stars, bells, trees, bulb ornaments, and a boot that looks more like a train engine if I turn it sideways.  After I got the cutting done, I laid them out on the table to make sure I didn't put all of the poop brown ones in one corner.  This seemed important.  Then, I labeled 'em in order from 1 to 24 and wrote down someone else's really handy Pinterest idea, which is to read a passage from the nativity story in Scripture each evening.  The verses for that are here.

Once all of that was done, I handed the tags over to my kiddos, equipped with stickers, glitter glue, and little sticky gemstones.  I did my best to resist rearranging stickers in order to make each ornament either symmetrical or balanced and avoided a lecture on proper glitter glue technique ("Don't squeeze so hard! Squeeze from the top! Egads, don't smear it like that!"), but I did supervise a few strategic sticker placement attempts, thus averting the very serious top-heavy sticker crisis of 2013.

The Most Important Part
After feeding the children and watching 2/3 of Elf because the children are losing interest and ricocheting off furniture with their Star Wars Lego battleships and gymnast maneuvers cleverly propelled from the seat cushion of the couch to the ottoman, escort them off to their rooms where they will whisper, "Good night, Mom.  I love you, Mom," after you've sung "Take you for a ride on my big green tractor" to them even though it's about taking a girl out for a ride on a tractor and you've modified it for your starry-eyed farmer sons, then sit down with the advent cards and start plotting out the possibilities for December leading up to Christmas.

Here's what we're doing (don't tell the kids!):

December 1 - Make hot cocoa
December 2 - Make cinnamon ornaments
December 3 - Play Christmas music
December 4 - Read a Christmas book
December 5 - Look at family photo albums
December 6 - Polar Express movie night
December 7 - Tuba Christmas @ Ashland
December 8 - Make Christmas cookies
December 9 - Read the story of the Nutcracker and open "special gift" (nutcrackers)
December 10 - Take a winter walk
December 11 - Buckeye Express Diner night
December 12 - Package Christmas cookies
December 13 - Popcorn and pajamas movie night
December 14 - Christmas shopping
December 15 - Lingro Family Christmas
December 16 - Deliver Christmas cookies
December 17 - Wrap Christmas gifts
December 18 - Eat Christmas cookies
December 19 - Fancy dress-up dinner night
December 20 - Look at Christmas lights
December 21 - Go ice skating
December 22 - Mystery event
December 23 - Color Christmas pictures and cards
December 24 - Davis Family Christmas
December 25 - Christmas Day

I feel a little less panicky and depressed about the holidays than my last post, partly because this project is done and I've outlined the holiday season, but also because I really do love the holidays-- the whirlwind of family gathering and laughing, the late night car rides looking for early Christmas lights on the way home from Thanksgiving dinner, the ever-available Christmas cookies, the quiet glow of the Christmas tree... ah.  There it is.  My Christmas spirit.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Cloak of Obligation

It's nearly December, and in spite of putting up my Christmas tree two weeks ago, hanging stockings, listening to Christmas Jazz on Pandora Radio at work all day, and ordering a few Christmas presents online, I'm just not feeling it yet.  Four days from now, I'm supposed to begin our countdown to Christmas and I haven't even made the advent calendar yet, and reading how excited I was for the holiday season last year only increases the dread.  I can't risk recycling last year's because I don't really want to go Christmas shopping with the kids on a random Thursday or have to bake cookies on a night when I don't get out of work until 5:30.

Where is my holiday spirit? 

I think it is wedged underneath this feeling of obligation to make December magical in the face of all of the other obligations I've set up for myself as the year comes to a close.  Traditions like I always create our family photo album on Shutterfly at this time of the year along with a photocard if I'm feeling like mailing cards to people.  And I always write in a "Christmas book" to report on what has happened in the Wells home this past year.  And decorating outside; the kids want to put up lights.  And baking Christmas cookies.  And shopping and wrapping.  And making homemade Christmas gifts - probably revisiting the cinnamon ornament of Christmases past.  And this Advent project I did last year, which was so much fun, and the kids are asking about it, looking forward to it, but I just feel tired.

These should be fun things, but because we also have to continue washing clothes and making meals and doing homework and paying bills, I feel Christmas tradition pressing down on me like a heavy cloak.  I have to do them.  I have to also keep reading and keep writing and I want to learn how to play the bass clef on the piano and I want to read with Lydia from Harry Potter each night and I need to also listen to Elvis read and encourage that fragile spirit of his towards confidence and I need to nurse Henry back to health from his bout of pneumonia last weekend and I need to someday speak to my husband as my husband instead of co-parent.


I say, no.  If the holiday season becomes a burden of "have to's" and "musts" and loses its spontaniety, its mystery, its silent nights, our spirits will become enslaved, and the very freedom of grace and love and peace that is promised by the coming of Christ we celebrate December 25 will lose its power as we dissolve into the madness of Target at 3 a.m. on Black Friday (or 9 p.m. Thanksgiving Day), the daily weight of activity jammed into each minute leading up to a supposed day of rest and gratitude.

Here on Thanksgiving Eve, I think I will do what I find myself needing every day to do lately, open my clenched fist and let go.  I will let go of the cloak of obligation and necessity that is choking my delight, and let it fall to the floor, let it get buried by the falling snow, and watch from my back window with a steaming cup of hot tea, Nat King Cole crooning, "Although it's been said, many times, many ways, Merry Christmas to you."  I will hold in my hand warmth and peace, give thanks for all there is to be thankful for, and ready myself for rest.  I do not have to do anything that will drive me out into the cold to fetch that cloak of obligation. 

I will stop on my way into the house and feel the flakes of winter fall on my face, listen to the muted world, and try to find a silent night.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Damaged Goods

Let's talk about sex. Ba-by.

Last night I spent about three hours reading and revising an essay that just won't stop growing, called "The Valley of Achor."  I keep trying to trim it down and it keeps rebelling, begging for more, more, more words when I want to make it shorter.  The darn thing just needs to say what it needs to say, and it keeps thinking of more things it needs to say.

It is an essay about obsession, infatuation, and love.  It is about sex and faith and God and mercy and redemption.  I have thought so much about these things for the last thirteen years, ever since I prayed at 18 that whatever was causing my period to be two weeks late would go away.  It did.  I don't know if I was pregnant.  I suspect that I was and that I miscarried, based on the number of times I've miscarried since that personal crisis in college.

Now, I am happily married, to a different man than the one I dated in college.  That man's shadow has followed me like a ghost these thirteen years, sometimes more often than other times.  We dated on and off for a year and a half, and I gave myself to him in many ways.  I would have married him, if he had asked.  Needless to say, he left a major imprint on my life.

This morning, Matt Walsh, a popular blogger with many, many good things to say, posted a blog on abstinence.  I agree with much of what he has to say, but I take issue with two things: his tone, and this sentiment:

"...Are you satisfied that what you give to your spouse is now secondhand?  If they tell you they feel happy or neutral about the fact that they gave themselves to someone other than their spouse, you’re dealing with someone in a very dysfunctional marriage. Any honest person in a healthy relationship would tell you they’d erase those moments from their lives if they could. ...That means millions have had to look at their spouse and say — probably silently in their own heads, deep in their subconscious — 'I have nothing new to give to you.'  It’s a tragedy, really. It’s a shame. You deal with it and you move on, but 'casual sex' has taken its chunk and you’ll never get it back." - Matt Walsh blog

When Brandon and I met, I was worried about revealing my past to him.  He was a Christian, the first believer I had seriously dated since becoming a Christian myself, and I worried that he might condemn me or reject me because I was "secondhand," no longer a virgin, impure.  When the time came to discuss these things (and honestly, we pushed the topic to the front of the line way faster than we should have), there was no condemnation, because he had failed in this area, too.  

Did these pre-marital relationships affect our relationship?  Absolutely.  Probably they still do, to some degree, the ripple effect of loving someone deeply and then losing them lasts for a long time.  However, Matt is missing a vital element of the message of the Cross. From Romans, "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" and slightly later in the same chapter, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

In all things.  The power of the Cross is not that we might strive for perfection and receive our reward based on how good we've been.  The power of the Cross is that we are free from the burden of perfection and made holy and pure through the redemptive love, grace, and mercy of Christ.  Not because of anything we've done, but only because of Christ.  Only because of the Father's love.  Only because of the power of the Holy Spirit.

I don't think I can regret for myself anymore the decisions I made to have sex before I married Brandon.  Maybe I regret how long I spent seeking after a person who no longer loved me back.  But that crisis in my life drove me to my knees, it woke me up to the realities of my imperfection and my lack of control, it released me from the grip of "do good things" and delivered me into the garden of "I have loved you with an everlasting love, I have drawn you with unfailing kindness."  Not condemnation.  How can I live in regret when God has delivered me into that garden?

Teach your children abstinence. Not because they will carry regret and shame with them the rest of their lives if they don't.  Not because they will be "damaged goods" otherwise, "secondhand" to the spouse they marry.  Not because they might have a baby out of wedlock or get a sexually transmitted disease.  Those are not good reasons.  They are not true reasons.  They are symptoms of a deeper emptiness or injury and they ignore redemption.

Teach your children abstinence because purity is a worthy pursuit, and abstinence is one facet of purity.  But it isn't the only one: purity manifests itself in our thoughts, our words, and our deeds.  It might please God that you are seeking purity, but that isn't why he loves you.

Attacking sex as the only manifestation of purity or impurity does what we Christians have done for centuries - identified one sin to place under a spotlight as worthy of condemnation.  Teach your children all of the worthy pursuits - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control (that's where abstinence fits in this list).  And when they fall -- because they will, in some way, fall -- be prepared to extend the same grace and mercy Jesus Christ extends to you, every single day of your broken and imperfect life.

"Jesus straightened up and asked her, 'Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?' 'No one, sir,' she said. 'Then neither do I condemn you,' Jesus declared. 'Go now and leave your life of sin.'" - John 8:10-11