Advent is an especially crazy time of year for pastors. I’ve been busy with sermons and Christmas Eve planning and Christmas potlucks, with visits and phone calls and Christmas cards. Yesterday I left at 9 am and didn’t get home until just after 9 pm. And I’ve been stressed–between keeping up with housework, planning gifts, day-long meetings, visits, sermon-writing, errands, and everything else that pops up in ministry and life, I’ve been so stressed that every time I sat down to work on something, I would get distracted by something equally as pressing within ten minutes. It left me frazzled, irritable, and unproductive.
Needless to say, my Christmas tree was not up by December 1. It wasn’t even up by the second Sunday of Advent. “It’s Advent, not Christmas,” I comforted myself with–and wondered if I had the time to put my tree up at all this year, or if it was even worth the stress and effort.
I did put it up. I put the tree up. I put the lights on it, because the light of the Christmas tree is my favorite part. I put two boxes of ornaments on it.
And it was totally worth it.
Now I have a Christmas tree. I have Christmas lights. I get to hang up more ornaments every day, and see some of my favorite decorations.
It’s so easy, when we’re stressed, to forget that good and de-stressing things take work and time and energy. It’s even easier to forget that that work and time and energy is worth it. But it is. It completely is.
Sometimes beauty is an act of grace, but sometimes we have to pause and make room for it.
“My favorite radio station has started playing Christmas music. It’s not even Thanksgiving yet!”
~a tweet I never got around to actually writing, because this happened on a Sunday morning and Sunday mornings are crazy for me
But seriously. The Sunday before Thanksgiving (it may even have been the Sunday before that?) is way too early to play Christmas music.
I boycotted the station out of pure irritation. Don’t get me wrong–I love Christmas music. I scoured thrift stores for years for my favorite Christmas CD that we used to play when I was growing up. I love decorating the tree or baking cookies to Christmas music. But in the weeks before Christmas I feel so battered with it that I hate it all. Yes, hate is too strong of a word, but hearing yet more Christmas music walk into a store makes me want to walk right back out again. I want to have about a week of Christmas music right before Christmas, when I’m getting really excited. Otherwise: no, thank you.
That’s what I’ve always thought. But man, the weeks before Christmas are crazy and exhausting as a pastor. Normally I listen to podcasts when I’m driving, but focusing on words is that last thing I’ve been wanting to do in the care lately. Radio it is.
There are other stations, of course. But when it’s snowing out, when I’ve spent all day working on Christmas stuff at church, when we’ve just decorated the sanctuary, it feels like Christmas music weather. (Or, let’s be honest, when all the other stations have commercials.)
And then–sure, I groan at my least favorite Christmas songs, and grumble through them–but I enjoy the good ones. And sometimes–sometimes they’ll play a song that brings me to tears. They remind me of what we celebrate at Christmas, of what we’re preparing for this Advent. They remind me that the bulletins and decorating, the baking and cleaning, the stressing and planning, are not the most important part of this season where we’re preparing for Jesus’ birth, Jesus’ coming.
This is a season of joy and wonder, mystery and holy darkness. And every once in a while, Christmas songs stop me in my tracks and remind me.
I was doing the dishes yesterday, washing a spoon. There was a pile still to be washed, stacked next to the sink. I had my favorite Pandora station playing.
I had so much else to do: bathroom to clean, the apartment to sweep, the table to clear off. I’m having people over for Thanksgiving. Two days left to get it all done!
And I was fiercely, deeply thankful for all of it: the dishes to be done, the work I wanted to get done, the housecleaning. The chance to listen to some music. The apartment, the job.
Sunday night I watched Black Panther for the first time since I saw it in theaters. I adored it–Shuri was a delight, the costumes and sets were just as beautiful as I remembered and the music just as wonderful, T’Challa was a good hero. Every single character inspired me with their dedication; Killmonger’s pain simply bled off the screen.
A few days before that, I finished watching season 3 of Supergirl. It’s a bit dumb and repetitive, but I love Kara. I love watching her struggle to do what’s right, love watching her be strong and learn how to be strong. She’s so much more human than Superman.
This is the most superhero media I’ve consumed in a long time. Man, I used to love that stuff: love the adventure of it, the drama, the high stakes and the battles. The fight of good against evil, played out on my television screen–it was cartoons, back then, but I could watch that forever.
I would imagine what it would be like, to fight–to never need to fear–to save the world.
But now–I am so thankful for my non-superhero life. I am perfectly content to not have the entire world depending on me. I love having an apartment, a pile of dishes that needs to be done and an even bigger pile of books I’d like to read, work to finish. I would take that life over that of a superhero any day.
There is something special about finishing up a long drive at night, podcasts playing on the speakers and the road stretched out dark in front of you. It’s a heady mix of potential and tiredness, kept at bay with a soda and snacks.
The moon rose over the mountains. I could only see their shape by when the moon was visible and hidden. The moon was a vivid, orange creamsicle color–not that I want to eat the moon, but it’s the only orange I know that’s both light and bright, which is exactly what the moon looked like. It hovered impossibly large, almost in front of me but to the right. It was almost the same color as the sodium street lights around the construction.
I felt alone, even with the occasional car or string of trucks on the road. Not lonely; not dwarfed by the darkness, or by the mountains that I couldn’t see; not lost and tiny in the darkness. Just alone. What was in the dark didn’t matter; only driving mattered, and the podcast keeping me awake and engaged. Moving forward, watching the lane markers hum by, watching the road curve and knowing its path only from the headlights driving in the other direction.
I was on a mission. (Is that possible when you’re being spontaneous on vacation?) And so I found myself driving down a country road, where the grass leaned into the road that I wasn’t sure was wide enough for two cars. The grass was just trim on the corn fields, threaded through with the gold of tassels and drying leaves.
Lights flashed at the railroad crossing as the barriers came down. I drifted slowly to a stop before the train began passing, car after car of freight containers and three-bay hoppers. The tracks flashed in the sunlight: flash-shadow-flash-shadow-flash-shadow-flash. A car stopped behind me.
The railroad crossing was shaded, like the tracks were a river. A few other stands of trees dotted the fields, but it was mostly corn. That, and on my side of the road a flower garden, overflowing around someone’s driveway and mailbox: pink and orange, yellow and purple and bits of red, growth where people might have to stop for the railcars to pass by.
Were they for us? An outgrowth of the beauty of waiting, what can be seen when we stop and look around? Or only a flower garden, bursting for space until it crowds to the very edge of the road?
I would say this will be summer themed, but… when was the last time I even did one of these??
Reading –I’ve read a fantastic amount this summer–among other things, I rediscovered public libraries and have been checking out all my local branches and, of course, walking out with books every time. I did some fun rereads: a few of the Mary Russell novels, by Laurie R. King; and House of ManyWays, which I adore (along with everything else Diana Wynne Jones has written) every time I reread it. And I enjoyed lots of new books: Meg Cabot‘s Heather Wells series was super fun; I went through a history kick and read a biography of Martha Washington and some Pennsylvania/Pittsburgh history; some Mary Roberts Rinehart Nurse Pinkerton stories.
Off the blog, I have a piece published on Dear Damsels. I discovered them recently and they feature beautiful writing. Appropriately enough, my piece is about creating new habits in a new time of life, and the beauty of habits.
And, if you’re curious about my day job, you can find all of my sermons here.
Listening–I went on a bit of a podcast-hunting spree a few weeks ago and found some wonderful new podcasts:
2298 is a fascinating science fiction podcast that I’m just starting
Everything Happens, with Kate Bowler, is heart-wrenching and emotional in the most honest way about the hard parts of life
Ologies is a funny, curiosity-filled look at different fields (-ologies!)
Saffron and Peri is a fun fairy tale-themed drama full of hijinks and good characters,
and speaking of dramas We Fix Space Junk is another one, about two women forced to run a space ship together
Tides is a fascinating The Martian-style story about a scientist stranded on a strange new planet, but there’s actual life as well
And Tumanbay is a fantastically acted and edited drama about a sultan’s city and a looming threat
I told you it was a spree!
Thinking about– The time I spend online. This article in many ways crystallized the discomfort I’d been feeling about how much time I’ve been online lately. Despite all the talk about Facebook over the past year, it sparked something that the rest of the conversation hadn’t: a reminder of how much social networks need us to be online, and the parallel realization that I’ve been spending more and more time online as a way to avoid so many other things in my life. It’s easier to scroll through whatever than it is to go do the dishes, let alone to figure out what I’m feeling after a confusing day.
Online–This article about caring really resonated as I try to figure out how to care more instead of ignore, just as this one about the importance of art even in the midst of really hard everything inspired me. And I couldn’t resist clicking on this article about learning from house plants and it was even more beautiful than I expected.
Watching–Lots of Stargate, mostly. I was watching and loving Castle and then my DVD player broke, so that’s on hold again for now. I’ve been dipping my toes into Star Trek Enterprise and not totally hating it?
Doing–Discovering new flavors of iced tea–my tea shelf is currently overflowing, which did not in any way stop me from going to Blue Monkey Tea Shop twice last month. TEA IS WONDERFUL. And, having lots of visitors from out of town, both family and friends. So, lots of board games, lots of chances to check out new places and show off favorites. Yes, please!
Going on lots of walks, because Pokemon Go is my not-so-new favorite thing and also because the weather is actually nice most of the time. Being outside is wonderful, and there’s a mini-park a two minute walk from my apartment. Everything is better done outside (and by everything I mean reading and writing and thinking).
I got my glass of peach iced tea, my computer with its power cord, my journal. I lit a candle. I started my computer and made sure I had water, too. Time to do this.
I pulled up my passage, copied it into a word document. I have an illogically deep fear of spending ten minutes flipping through a Bible to find my passage, so I always print it out at the top of my sermon. Facebook pulled me aside: comments answered, weird fact articles, cute puppy pictures. OK. Sermon. I read through my notes, made some more notes under the very special heading of “Sermon Thoughts.” That means I’m close to the end, close to writing the sermon. Today they were all recaps of disjointed thoughts that I liked, abstractly, but wasn’t sure how to tie together or even if they belonged together. I had thoughts yesterday; I have thoughts today; they weren’t at all the same. I wasn’t sure if I could join them together, or should.
OK, two hours. I could do this.
Maybe, except I went on Twitter. Yep, people are still upset, still posting poetry fragments. I went to the other room in search of my shepherd-related things, for the children’s moment (maybe?); I thought I might have some vapid shepherdess statuette, and actually had a stuffed sheep music box that plays “White Christmas.” That’ll work.
The sermon feels further away than ever.
I go backwards: Twitter, then Facebook. Back and forth. Texts with a friend. I haven’t been to my sermon document in twenty minutes, blank except for the text and “Let us pray:” The resistance–mine? the world’s? the friction of fear against words?–is building, and I know trying to outflank it with distractions only makes it stronger.
Facebook: nothing new has come up in the last three minutes, except an ad. I don’t recognize the company, but there’s a shirt that says “believe” with a sea monster: and I want to believe in beautiful, wonderful things like sea monsters and my work ethic. I want to believe in the unexpected, in hidden nooks and crannies full of amazement. I want to believe in possibilities.
The sea monster titled “believe” is a note of hope.
Message of the story: sometimes I struggle to write. 🙂
The sermon did get written, however; you can read it here.