Putting up the Christmas Tree

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.

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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.

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Superheroes

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.

Tiny Leaves

My plants are finally growing.

I live in an apartment; I don’t have a yard or even a balcony, so I have to grow everything inside in pots. This method is not something I have a talent for: I’ve thrown out plants covered in mold, plants withered past desiccation, and plants that threw up their hands at life for no reason I could discern. 

Perhaps it has to do with my choice in plants: mostly I rescue them, from events and church services and other short lives as centerpieces that will end in the trash. I can’t stand the thought of plants being thrown out. It seems such a waste. They could keep growing, keep adding to the green in the world. 

Which is why I rescued almost ten poinsettias last Christmas. A few promptly died, dropping all their leaves and turning brown. The rest died slowly, dropping their leaves a few at a time until there were only two or three or five stubborn wrinkled leaves, discolored and brittle. I kept watering them; the stems were still green, mostly, except for the few that had also died, so that mostly they all looked like sticks stuck in a pot by a toddler with a better imagination than me. I kept watering them. I figured they weren’t quite dead, I guess. 

And now they’re growing new leaves, six months later. Finally. They have tender little leaves, of that brilliant green that is only in infant growth, growing out of joints on those still-green twigs. There are four of them, lined up on a shelf. They have passed the message along from one to the next, and they have all sprouted anew, right next to the Easter lily that is finally yellow and brittle and dead. 

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They’re growing new leaves! They aren’t dead!

And it gives me hope for all that I’m trying to grow in my own life, to the morning prayer and to the exercise, the cleaning and the writing, the unpacking and the decorating: everything I’ve added and taken away as I’ve been working to grow roots here, where I am. Every small thing I’ve done that felt like a tiny wave to a cruise ship when I can’t even see any windows, like whispering into the dark when everyone says only a shout will do, is something. It may not grow, like my poor Easter lily, but maybe it’s worth trying either way; maybe it’s worth rescuing no matter what the end result.

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Cleaning and Loving

Confession time:

I haven’t been cleaning very much. And by “very much” I mean it’s been more than a month since I’ve done anything that wasn’t laundry. (Necessary about laundry?)

Ugh.

It’s not just that. I’ve been at my place for almost a year now and still haven’t hung anything up, except for one post it reminding me that “The internet does not inspire you.” (Truth!) As much as not cleaning has partly been about being exhausted and overwhelmed, it’s also been about a lack of permanence. I know I won’t live here forever. I plan to move out when I find a church. I’ve been actively trying to not set down roots: I have more boxes than furniture, and most of my books and winter clothes are still packed (because last September, I optimistically thought I wouldn’t need them before I’d moved). I haven’t really bought anything for the room. I haven’t bought anything future-oriented since I moved in.

And I’ve been thinking about that, as I try to get over the hump that is “I haven’t cleaned and nothing has exploded!” so that I can reach the other side and start cleaning again. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with not completely unpacking, or not buying things I’ll just have to move again–but intentionally distancing myself so I don’t form any attachments is not really the goal. I don’t like it. What’s wrong with loving the place where I am, even if I’ll be moving someday? Why do I feel the need to hurry through instead of getting to know my neighbors?

I’d like to love this place, even if I’m not here much longer. I’d like to clean, and leave it better for whoever comes after me. And I’d like to remember that organizing and cleaning and putting pretty things on the walls and shelves is good for me, too.

Which is why I’m going to the store in a bit to get a new shower curtain. Which is why I’ve been rearranging my room so that there’s more than one path (because it’s a start) and making piles to donate.

Which is why I found myself mopping the bathroom today, dripping with sweat because I made the bright decision to start cleaning when it was pouring rain and so the humidity was through the roof.

And…loving is mostly hard work, and messy, and made up of moments that aren’t particularly memorable.

But I think I’m ready to love a little more.

Little Fears

I write a lot on here about fear. I think a lot about fear. The more I get to know myself, the more I see threats fear influences all the little parts of my life: not reading because I’m afraid of not liking a new book, being afraid to start a sermon and so finding a million other things to do, staying home because I’m afraid of seeing that one person again…. The list is endless. 

And it feels kind of pathetic to admit. I can just imagine some sneering voice asking, “You really avoid every day things because you’re afraid of silly things like that? Coward!” 

To which I say:

  1. Several swear words. Irritating voice!
  2. So often I don’t even realize that my fear is influencing how I’m behaving. I just think I’m not in the mood. I think I’m just really tired. I think about how I’m no good at whatever-it-is. 
  3. Realizing that I’m reacting out of fear is a good step. I can’t very well face my fear if I can’t or won’t recognize it.
  4. Trust me, I feel silly too. I wish my fear didn’t come out in all sorts of strange ways. But without realizing what I’m really feeling, I can’t accept it and then gently lift it aside and start doing those things even though I’m afraid.

So, yeah. I’m afraid of some things that make even me laugh. I’m afraid a lot. But I’m working on it.

On Reading Again

Reading has been hard over the last few months. I love reading, and I missed it, but I just couldn’t find a book that either sounded interesting or kept me interested. 

The amount of TV I’ve been watching didn’t help. For me, watching TV and reading a book are two entirely different experience: a book invites you in, to imagination and experiences and emotions. TV is, for the most part, a much more passive experience: there is nothing to imagine, no connections to make. There is only what is, playing out on the screen in front of you. And I know that’s not entirely fair: TV invites us into fully imagined worlds and visceral experiences that aren’t possible in books. But I find books far more participatory and inspiring.

Over the past few weeks, I have finally begun to read again. On a day when I was being kind to myself, I went to a public library and checked out a few books that sounded interesting. I did the same a few days ago, leaving with an impossibly large stack of books. There’s no way I’ll read them all before they’re due. But I had a few books in mind, and I had a lovely conversation with two librarians who recommended several more. It all made me feel generous. I may as well! And then I went home and read until midnight because one book was just so incredibly wonderful. I could have put it down, but I didn’t have any plans for the night, and it was such a fun book: I did a lot of laughing, and a lot of moaning and whisper-screaming at the characters. I still haven’t returned it; I finished it, but I enjoyed it so much that I don’t quite want to let it go just yet. 

Trying new books has felt too risky. I’m giving up time and emotions to something that might be awful. It might have a message that I hate. It might be just mediocre. 

But right now that risk feels OK. 

Seeing God [Off the Page]

Mountains stretched to the horizon, mountain after mountain: most of them blue-green with evergreens, a few tall enough to be topped with rocks and snow. The closest had a peak covered by a meadow bright with flowers: gold, scarlet, and violet swaths, with highlights of creamy white and tiger orange dotted with jagged boulders.

That rainbow mountain was why I was here.


 

I’ve always loved nature and seen God in it. Well, almost always. There were a few years there where that wasn’t quite true, and today I’m over at Off the Page telling my story of seeing God in nature, especially in those few years.

(You may especially enjoy it if you love hearing about flowers, bees, mountains, beautiful nature things…)