I’m sitting in my Grandma’s kitchen in South Bend, Indiana, trying not to feel sorry for myself. My brain is swimming with so many thoughts, conflicting and colliding…
This was supposed to be THE vacation. The one time I’ve taken vacation all year where I actually got to use my vacation hours because I didn’t end up working through it. I planned an extra week after my parents left to spend time with my Grandma, my brother, my friends from college, maybe my uncle if he’s in town. I’ve been looking so forward to this trip for months.
Then I got laid off. Off. Laid. Off. 30-day notice, with this 2-week vacation smack in the middle. This sucks more than words can say. If really Christian people didn’t read this blog, I’d use a lot stronger language. I could just blow stuff off, but I’m not like that. I could never live with myself if I didn’t use every waking moment to do everything I can to make sure my kids have everything in place when I leave. I just can’t. So I will work as much as I can.
I feel guilty. I feel guilty about not working when I’m spending time with my family. I feel guilty about not spending time with my family when I’m working.
I’m worried. I’m worried about my life, my income, my cat. Mostly I’m worried about my kids who have taken such a risk to learn to trust me, who have dared to hope that I’ll really be there, only to be ripped away through no fault of theirs or mine.
I’m scared. I left my whole world for this job, and now I’ve lost it. I’ve worked an average of about 50 hours a week for the past year, and I haven’t taken the time to really build relationships outside of work. It’s a very lonely feeling. I’m terrified I will lose this new passion that I have for foreign-born youth. My ADHD hyper-focuses me, and it’s so easy to just move on; the idea of losing this scares me to death.
I’m grateful. I’m pretty sure I have a job. I’m so grateful. And I have peace about being employed. I truly do.
I’m so irritated that this layoff happened right at Christmas. My greatest Christmas joy is giving gifts, and this privilege has been ripped from me this year. My mom says I should write – give the gift of words, she says. She’s probably right. But it doesn’t feel good enough for me. I don’t write well on command, and I’m not feeling it.
I’m happy. It is so good to see family again. My brother is doing better than he has in years. His house is clean and healthy. He has staff who actually do their job and care about him. I got to see my aunts and uncle and 5 cousins and my two little cousin-nieces.
I got to sit around a table on Sunday with 5 dear friends from college, meet their families, children. Awkward at first, everyone staring at each other. I think I would have been happy just staring at them for 3 hours. I love them so much. Why don’t we keep in better touch? MK problems.
I’m in awe. God provided miraculously for my dad’s party. Miraculously. The generosity He showed for a simple birthday party is a display of his great Fatherly Love. I see Him up there with a party hat on and organizing pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, just throwing His kid a birthday party.
Mom’s passports disappeared, two days before her flight back to Mexico. She was seen today at the US Passport Office without an appointment (anti-policy), and will have her new passport in a couple of hours.
I’m sad. I had to say goodbye to my cousins and nieces for the last time before they return to Korea and Kenya. I don’t know when I’ll see them again. That’s the missionary life, it’s part of the “system,” but I’m still sad. And I said goodbye to my parents this morning, who knows for how long. Again, part of our system, but no fun at all.
So here I am, sitting at this table, trying to focus on work, unable to pull out of this melee of thoughts and emotions happening inside my echoing mind, when suddenly I remembered. I remembered one of my first unofficial blogs that I wrote in the form of a FaceBook Note five Christmas Eves ago. My situation was very different then, but the general idea was the same: things were frustrating, overwhelming, and out of my control. I was crying a lot that day. Then God said, “Girlfriend, I’m not a baby in a manger anymore. Choose peace.” And I did. And I got an A.
So here I share with you my thoughts of Christmas Eve, 2008, unabridged. May they encourage you as you face whatever your holiday season holds for you. May you be challenged along with me to trust, shamelessly and fearlessly, that God is great and grown-up and bigger than whatever giant boulder stands in our way today. And may this season prepare us for the mountains that will come later, as my academic pebble prepared me 5 years ago for today…
December 24, 2008
I am NOT a fan of school. And yet, I’m working at this feverish pace to finish my master’s degree in May. In September my cousin got engaged; I immediately bought a ticket to Albuquerque, requested the week of Christmas off of work, and focused on nothing but this week. For the last two months my one motivating drive has been Eliot’s wedding and a week of nothing but resting and enjoying Christmas at my mentor’s house. And two weeks without any homework. My parents have been wonderful about purchasing my textbooks for me. . . I am so incredibly grateful, there aren’t enough words. But my mom goofed when she ordered the book for my December class. The book ended up sitting in Kansas City for a couple of weeks, then she mailed it to me book rate which meant that I’d eventually get the book the day before all my papers had to be turned in. I tried to stay calm and make the best of it, but I was pretty mad about the whole situation. I ended up borrowing some older books from a friend, using the internet, doing my best, and getting my assignments done in time – even though I had to take an extra day off work to do it. I worked really hard and I was really proud of myself.
The wedding was wonderful. I came back feeling more rested and relaxed and happy than I have in a very long time. Yesterday was very nice. I helped my mentor run some errands and clean out the garage, and we watched 3 Christmas movies. It is SO WONDERFUL to be here without having to do homework. Then last night I got a phone call and email from my professor telling me that 4 of my assignments were way off-base and that if I didn’t redo them my grade would be barely passing. The semester was over on Sunday, but she’s giving me the opportunity to redo them because of my textbook situation. I should be grateful, but I’m not. This means that after all of my excruciating work I have lost the vacation that was my main motivation for the last three months. Pissed is an understatement. I have spent most of the last six hours sitting on my bed alternating between trying to figure out how to decipher whether a WAIS-III subtest score is significant based on the mean standard score of the category and furiously crying my eyes out because it is so incredibly confusing and I was not given the WAIS-III Standard Report Form that tells me clearly how to do it. Tomorrow will be more of the same. I was thoroughly hating this Christmas.
Then this evening I got an email from an old friend (whose new blog you can visit here – definitely worth the read!) sharing his conflicting thoughts about Christmas. His words triggered many of my own philosophical musings. . . Forget the horrors of materialism, why must Christmas be such a warm fuzzy time? Why does culture dictate our emotions and behaviors so much at this time of the year? Jesus was born and laid in a manger, but He didn’t stay there. The focus of Christmas seems to be on being and staying comfortable, on having things be just so, preserving tradition, feeling good. Christmas doesn’t “feel right” if we don’t feel happy and peaceful. It’s almost like constantly seeking that “first high,” and the “feeling of Christmas” seems to become more elusive each year. It really has become such a self-serving time.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas. It is my favorite holiday. I love the music and the food and the families and the shopping and the presents and tradition. I so love the tradition. When I think about it, though, I love Christmas because of the memories it conjures, and I am repeatedly disappointed every year when the experience falls short of the memory. Christmas is no longer about Christ. Christmas is about tradition and memories and eating sugar and watching “White Christmas” and opening presents. It’s about dressing up for a meal and taking pictures and looking at colored lights. And setting up a manger scene that – every year – returns Jesus to his little bed. Christ is a TRADITION of Christmas, but He has been relegated to the position of a supporting actor rather than the main hero. I have fallen into this trap of focusing on the feeling rather than Christ. The main thing I have noticed this year: I have said several times that Christmas isn’t Christmas without snow; the irony is that only 11 of my 29 Christmases have included snow.
And then there’s the manger thing. Oddly, I am reminded of Harry Potter. (Stay with me, it will make sense in a minute.) In the 5th book, Harry and his friends enter the Department of Mysteries at the Ministry of Magic where they find abstract concepts such as death, love, thought, and time tangibly studied. Time is represented by an hourglass full of a sort of sandstorm. The sand swirls down: this is time progressing. Then a wind comes and blows the sand back to the top: this is time regressing. A chick hatches from an egg at the bottom of the hourglass and begins to grow until the storm swallows it up; when the storm calms the chick has returned to an egg and the process repeats itself. Over and over and over again. Every December our culture puts Jesus back in the manger in a big way. What a sneaky way for Satan to fix in our minds an idea of Jesus as a helpless homely infant. We are such a visual instant-gratification society. . . the mighty words of Gabriel are nothing compared to the timeless image of the manger.
So. . . I make the following proposal: the meaning of Christmas is “hope in hardship.” How foolish we are if we neglect to imagine the hardship of that miraculous yet dreadful night. The rocky barren trek from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Mary’s sheer uncomfortableness. Joseph’s frustration at the timing of the census. Mary’s disappointment at having to put her brand new baby to bed in a feeding trough. Joseph’s fury at having no better option than a stable for Mary to give birth to this Son of God, with whom HE had been given the responsibility to provide for and protect. How weak and ashamed Joseph must have felt; I can only imagine the knot in the pit of his stomach, the overwhelming powerlessness as he watched things unfold so very utterly against his plans. How clearly God gave the message that He would be the ultimate provider. Yet through it all there was hope: rugged, but sheltered; hungry, but warm; tired, but safe; anger, but joy; fear, but comfort. Hardship, but hope.
And I am no longer angry. I hate doing homework on Christmas. I hate having to give up my vacation for this stupid 2-unit class. But I have been given the opportunity to preserve my 4.0, and that gives me hope. This whole thing will be done in May, and that gives me hope. And those things that make it onto our Christmas list: a car, a good job, a spouse, degrees, enough money, friendships, nice bookends to hold up my Middle Earth collection. . . those desires are symbols of hope, too. As long as we are not focused on the things themselves but on the blessings that they are. They come from a God who focuses not on the gift but on the blessing. A God who provides a manger when it is enough and gives great wealth to those who seek wisdom. A Lord who chooses shepherd boys to lead His people and fisherman to lead His church. A Lover who touches the heads of children and notices the longing reach of the desperate. A Father who recognizes the hardships – no matter how petty – and extends hope to pull us through while He chuckles quietly about our desperation to claim the rock He sat on and our frustration at not being able to find the perfect Christmas cards from the wall of them at Target.
So tonight I skipped the turkey (ah yes, the traditions of others) so I’d stay awake and I’ll miss the Christmas movies, and I’ll muddle through the WAIS-III and the MMPI-2 and the MCMI-III and the Rorschach into tomorrow. But I’m not angry anymore. I marvel at the creativity of a God who confuses my mother’s ability to select appropriate shipping options so that I would remember this Christmas that HE is in control and that HE is the One who provides hope in the midst of my most minor hardships. And I am grateful for my wise friend who had the courage to share his controversial ideas about Christmas so that God could use them to pull me out of my reverie of self-pity.
Merry Christmas. May God reveal to you great hope in the midst of the hardships and trials that persist, even at Christmas. May you know His joy and peace, and may you find blessing in the most unexpected of places.
With the hope and overwhelming joy that comes from knowing that Jesus is no longer in His manger,