Christmas comes in less than one week and I am in a bit of denial about it. Maybe because I just finished dressing my tree with ornaments and lights last night at eleven o’ clock and have yet to work my elbow grease in the kitchen for the labor of making pretty cookies and fluffy, frosted cakes to share? Or the fact that I have bought only one Christmas present? (You read that right, one gift. And it’s not even wrapped). Or perhaps the reality that I can’t seem to stomach more than three consecutive Christmas songs on the radio without wanting to stab myself with a ballpoint pen?
Let’s just go with all of the above.
If I had my way time would slow down so that the next two weeks of festivities and fun won’t come and go before I get a chance to actually savor them and the sentiments of Santa Claus coming to town and the sounds of sleigh bells and Silent Night playing at the grocery store and most significantly and spectacularly – the birth of a Savior Who took on Flesh to give us Hope.
It always happens this way at Christmas-time, doesn’t it? We wish it would slow down and give us the perfectly-timed reprieve we need to get all that we need to get done done. And there is rarely a shortage of things to do in the weeks preceding December twenty-fifth — things we not only want to get done, but want to have done thoughtfully and well because it’s December and everything is supposed to be jolly and pretty. “Buy Christmas cards” has been on my to-do list for three weeks. You think I’ve bought and personalized and tucked them into envelopes for the mailman yet?
But every year I must gently remind myself that it’s not about the doing. It’s not about shiny presents and beautiful table settings or perfect, Pinterest-inspired Christmas cards and photo-shoots. All of those things are mere supplements to a season that is purposed and centered upon the day that Jesus was born in a manger — a King and pure, spotless Lamb — with no place to lay His head. The season is about the Hope we have in His birth and the Peace made available to us by His birth, and out of our love for Him, showing Goodwill toward our fellow man.
Sounds nice and flowery and flows well when I type it out in this space but when it comes to day-by-day, real-life in all it’s nitty-gritty, unscripted and spontaneous chaos, it’s way easier to say these things and actually not live them out in any way, shape, or form. My confession to you right now is that I have failed to live these things out thus far this holiday season. Spiritual reverence and the appropriate posture of heart toward the occasion of my Savior’s birth? Failed. Gratitude expressed for all the good things and basic provisions I have? Failed. Rejoicing for the birth of Christ and the celebratory time with friends and family? Failed. Reading scripture and praying thoughtful and honest prayers? Failed.
I have not done much right this December. But it’s never too late to shift our paradigms and re-adjust our sails. So in the next week leading up to Christmas morning I am going to celebrate one part of the Christmas tradition as sincerely, reverently, and wholly as I can, rather than pummeling my spirit into the dirt in a futile attempt to get it all right. There are too many pressures this season already, no need to add more. And the part of “Christmas” that I want to hone in on and celebrate is that of Peace. Inner Peace. True Peace. Life-Giving Peace. And the belief that Peace is possible both in the darkest, dirtiest, most disgusting parts of my heart and mind, and within and throughout the world around me. What does this look like exactly? I’ll let you know if and when I figure it out. But for now, it looks like inward reflection and acceptance and forgiveness. For what is inner peace if it is not first a work of self-examination? And in this process, I will not judge, shame, or condemn myself for what I find when I scour the crevices of my broken soul…I will simply let it be. And try, as hard as it may feel, to ask God for a little Help in decoding what the brokenness means for my life in the here and now. Christ came to earth to live and feel what it is like to be human, after all. Something tells me He gets it and wants to help and heal and grant peace more often than cynics like me give Him credit for. So while I may not be in the Christmas spirit just yet, why not at least try and celebrate something about the season that is worthwhile?
Peace on Earth.
Let it begin, and illuminate, in me.
“I love to watch the fine mist of the night come on,
The windows and the stars illumined, one by one,
The rivers of dark smoke pour upward lazily,
And the moon rise and turn them silver. I shall see
The springs, the summers, and the autumns slowly pass;
And when old Winter puts his blank face to the glass,
I shall close all my shutters, pull the curtains tight,
And build me stately palaces by candlelight.”
― Charles Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du Mal
I cry when I fly on airplanes sometimes. And not in the endearing, cute, wistful ways that women do in the movies but rather like a toddler who hasn’t slept in three days and can’t find their pacifier and is cutting their first tooth. I have never been a pretty crier. My face swells and my eyes puff up like that of a blowfish and I do that pathetic thing where I start to double breathe and all oxygen I suck in and exhale out becomes audible to anyone within a twenty-foot radius of me. It’s totally sexy and a terrific way to attract potential suitors. Really.
When I boarded a plane back to California from Florida last week the tears came much faster than usual.
In fact, I hardly made it to the kiosk to print off my boarding pass before losing it entirely amidst a sea of sleepy, seven a.m. travelers who appeared almost as weary and winded as I did as I rolled my overstuffed suitcase behind me toward the baggage check station for American Airlines. The bespectacled, silver-haired woman with strawberry-red lipstick and a soft, pillowy perm who weighed my bag and took my credit card was patient with me while I rummaged around my purse for I.D. card. I saw her watch a tear drip down my left cheek and hoped she wouldn’t do the thing I feared she would and ask me “are you okay?” That question comes with consequence when asked of someone who is by themselves in an airport. If you ask it of a person who looks like they have just had their heart squashed by a semi-truck and handed back to them in a dozen squishy, shapeless pieces resembling raw, ground hamburger meat be prepared to be called a bad name and have coffee splashed over your crotch or expected to listen to something far more depressing than you expected or to buy said person a whole pie because they likely haven’t eaten in days or have done nothing but eat for days and well…what’s one more pie when life feels hopeless? (I prefer chocolate or pecan pie with full-fat vanilla ice cream, in case you ever need to know.)
The woman at the check baggage station didn’t ask if I was okay but simply locked eyes with me and smiled in that way that old ladies sometimes do that makes you feel like they don’t need to ask any questions because they somehow know where you are or what hurt you feel because they’ve felt it, too.
I dragged my body through security and to the gate to board my flight home. The sleeve of my white cardigan was damp with the stain of what felt like ten thousand tears and the remnants of that morning’s blush and mascara that my tears had all but washed away. With twenty minutes to kill before take-off, I decided I needed a big, fat bean and cheese burrito with chips and salsa if I was to survive the five-hour-long journey of being crammed against a window-seat above the clouds. So I found a Chipotle and made my burrito-dream a reality. Except it suddenly wasn’t a dream when I began to cry again at the realization that I had lost my debit card and couldn’t pay for the food that had already been prepared for me.
“Hey, you’re okay…I got you. Go on now and enjoy your meal, okay?” I looked up and a middle-aged business man with kind brown eyes and an understanding smile handed me my bag of food. He had been behind me in line and watched my struggle to find my card and the even-more-difficult struggle of sucking back the tears I didn’t want to cry anymore.
“Oh my gosh, thank you, thank you, sir,” I responded. He nodded and smiled and disappeared into the crowds without saying another word.
It is kindnesses such as these that make life a little more bearable when you’re trudging through the trenches.
And that burrito was one of the best burritos to ever touch my lips.
Ten minutes into my flight and I was sobbing into my brown fleece blanket while listening to Coldplay and burping up black beans. It was a real sexy experience. And I’m sure the frail old man from London who sat next to me told his friends all about me later on that night at the pub in a verbal exchange that I imagine went something like this:
“She was blubbering like a baby. I don’t think the poor, young lad knew how crazy she looked. I should have offered her a Kleenex but you never know with these crazies…offer them a favor and they show up at your house in the middle of the night with a machete,”
“Jesus! That must have been a bloody-awful flight. You need another beer…” his friends would reply.
I don’t regret the crying. It was necessary and natural and the only thing my body really knew how or wanted to do. And I think that we are no more human and alive than we are when we allow ourselves to totally feel what we’re feeling deep down below the surface of what others see and what we, ourselves, can even understand.
Now, you want to know why I was crying right? It’s been a mystery up until this point and you will stop reading this if I don’t cut to the chase and tell you what elicited these tears, won’t you?
Fine. I’ll tell you. But it’s not easy for me to because I’m a mess right now in the best and worst way. So here you go…
- I went on a cruise with my family to the Bahamas and it turned out to be one of the best experiences I have ever had in my twenty-seven years of life. I made friends with people who felt more like family, danced until five in the morning every night with said friends, and swam with them under the moonlight in the cruise ship’s swimming pool when our feet grew too tired to dance anymore. Most nights it rained while we swam and it was magical and infinitely more beautiful than I could describe to you in this space.
- Saying goodbye to those people with whom I bonded so perfectly shredded my soul and left me with an ailing, wounded heart that didn’t want that trip to ever have to end.
- I felt feelings I haven’t felt in a long time on that boat sailing over the cool, blue Caribbean. And I had experiences and encounters with people who, in their own unique and indescribably enchanting ways, gave me life. I will never forget them.
- I had to say goodbye to my brother who is being deployed with the Air Force for two years. This will never not be hard for me.
- I discovered some parts and pieces of myself that I had forgotten were there and had been waiting to be nourished and fed for a long time. In this process, I learned more about who I am and where I want my life to go.
- These discoveries came at the cost of a very hard lesson and a whole lot of pain.
- I have a lot to process and make sense of about that lesson and it’s ensuing pain.
- But I’ll be okay.
- I also like Taylor Swift now. I can’t tell you why. I just do.
- I am not ashamed of liking Taylor Swift, either. Have you heard “Blank Spaces”? Don’t talk to me about it until you do.
- Yes, me liking Tay Swift now constitutes as a reason for why I cried on my flight and am still crying a lot as we speak. It’s complicated.
Other things that happened on my trip that are worth noting, not because they made me cry but just because they happened are as follows:
- I learned that when Bahamians ask you if you are “looking for the pharmacy” you should not look interested and ask “what pharmacy?” because they are really asking you if you want to buy drugs from them.
- I did not have a cell phone with service for four days and it was the best detox of my life.
- Belgium waffles with strawberry preserves and syrup and whipped cream for breakfast every morning is a requirement if you want inner-peace and joy.
- I tripled my money playing blackjack. And I have two dirty martinis to thank for it. (The only night I indulged in alcohol on the cruise and it was only because casinos are better from behind the lens of a little booze).
- I fell in love with Amy Poehler while reading her book “Yes, Please,” in my bathing suit in the Bahamian sunshine. She’s my spirit animal.
- I also fell in love in a fresh, new way with the sea and the sun and the smiles of strangers. Something about the cruise helped me rediscover how rare and beautiful it is to even exist and forced my eyes open to the exquisiteness of the human experience. Yes, life is hard. And very sad sometimes. But being alive is a really wonderful gift that deserves reverence and gratitude. Always.
So when I tell you that I cried on my flight home and have struggled to not cry anymore since being back, it is not because something devastating has happened, but rather, because I think that I tasted what heaven on earth might feel like when this life is over. A glimpse of heaven on earth that came to me in the form of friendship, community, love, sharing, and the sort of carefree, playful, and simple existence that I think we were all designed to taste and know. And all because I boarded a ship to the Bahamas two weeks ago without knowing what would come of it and just how thirsty my soul was for what happened to me on those cool, blue Caribbean waves – waves that rocked and wooed me, and reminded me of where and who I am meant to be.
Oh, this life. This sweet, strange, sad, and spectacular life. Sometimes it feels like too much, other times too little, and other times like just enough. And that is why we must let ourselves listen to Coldplay and cry on airplanes and confess that we like Taylor Swift.
For all that I have learned lately can be summed up best as this: life is too beautiful to be lived as a lie. Life is too exquisite to be contained. And we deserve to taste the good things of heaven because they were created to be tasted and savored. We need only have our plates ready, and our hearts open for the feast despite the tears we had to cry to at last find our seat at the table.
Good morning lovely friends and readers!
I apologize for having been absent for the past few days. I didn’t announce it here or anywhere formally, but I am in Florida with my family right now to spend time with my oldest brother, Joe, before he leaves for a two-year-long deployment with the Air Force. To celebrate his service (and hopefully his last deployment) we are going on a cruise to the Bahamas this week.
I’m going on a cruise.
Guys, I have never been on a cruise before and am a wee bit nervous about it.
How could I be nervous about going on a warm, tropical cruise in the first week of December?
Well, being on a boat where there isn’t an “exit route” or place where I could be dropped off if something goes wrong or the crowds feel stifling and I need solitude and familiar ground to walk on doesn’t excite me. But I know that likely sounds selfish and I will probably read these words in a couple of months after this trip has long been over and scold myself for such a silly worry in the face of an extraordinary vacation/ experience. As many have told me, however, as soon as I am on the ship and overlooking the endless blue of the ocean sparkling under the hot Caribbean sun, I doubt my worries will count for much as I bathe in the tropical sunshine and the perfumes of salt-and-sea.
I will be taking a break from writing to clear my head and cleanse my creative palette and hope to resume when I am back next weekend. I won’t have internet access which let me tell you, I am sincerely looking forward to for the escape and simplicity of being disconnected, almost entirely, from cyberspace and social media and my habits of texting/twitter/let-me-kill-time-by-skimming-instagram during the day. I need this. For my body and mind, this will be good for me.
With that said, I will be back in business in a week (maybe less) and look forward to telling you all about my time out at sea. I hope your Thanksgiving was restful and full of love and pie and all of the trimmings that come along with the holiday.
Be well and don’t forget about me. I’ll be back before you realize I’m gone.
And now, I take off for paradise and bid you adeiu.
Here I come, Bahamas…
Happy Thanksgiving, friends!
Whatever you did to celebrate the holiday, I hope it left you thankful, warm, and full in all of the best ways.
I have a lot to give thanks for this year. And it is true I don’t deserve all of the goodness that surrounds me everyday, whether or not I recognize it which I often don’t. I’m thankful for all the small memories and moments that have been strung along thus far to make my story my own and to shape me into both the person I already am and the woman I am still becoming. The good, the bad, and the ugly — when I look back on all that I have seen and been through I can’t help but feel a profound sense of awe at God for how Gracious His Love has been and how constant, and condition-free His love remains even for the worst, most scuffed-up, scarred, and bitter of us all. I am thankful that my past wounds and hurt count for something both on this earth and into the next — and I’m thankful for my best friends and family who have never given up on me even at times when they maybe wouldn’t have been wrong to. Even on my worst day I’ve got it pretty good and I need to be mindful and thankful for that more often.
Have a beautiful day and a wonderful holiday.