Joy

joy

Joy. Third Sunday of Advent. This is the week we traditionally put up our Christmas tree and our Nativity. We usually haul out the old records – yeah, remember records? –  and we sing along, badly. I turn out cookies in big batches. The house is loud and bright and smells like heaven.

Not this year. The tree is up, lit, and decorated but we did it quietly. The Nativity boxes are all stacked in the corner for later. Maybe tonight. Cookies might happen before Christmas Eve.

The traditional Christmas preparations that usually make me feel lighter inside feel heavy this year. The excitement that usually bubbles up in me just hasn’t been there this year. The closer we get to Christmas, the heavier things weigh on me.

And yet, joy is not absent.  Joy showed up in the simplest, most unexpected way. A little piece of candy from an old lady’s purse was all it took to brighten my whole world. Earlier this week a new client, whom I had never met, was introduced to me as I was leaving work. As usual these days, I was in a whirlwind with a long list of things I needed to do after work. She smiled and we shook hands. Then suddenly, she reached for her bag and dug out a strawberry-filled hard candy and handed it to me. Everything instantly lightened up for me and it must have been all over my face when I thanked her because she caught my hand, dug out five more, put the whole handful in my hand and then stood up and gave me a big hug. She could not have known but those particular candies bring back the sweetest memories of my childhood. As I walked to my car, I still had a long list of things I needed to do after work but the whirlwind felt … well… a lot less whirly. And I caught myself noticing the way the sunlight hit the snow and the sparrow singing in the tree over my car and how chubby the squirrels have gotten all of the sudden.

The next day, I came into work, still smiling like a little girl over that little handful of candy. There waiting for me was a whole bag of the same candies. After I’d left, the client had gone out to her car and come back in with a full bag and left it for me. That was enough to move me to tears.

I’ve always been one to find joy in the littlest things in life: the way the dew hangs on a spiderweb or a buttercup growing up through a crack in the cement or the way the snowflakes stacked up precariously on the bush outside the kitchen window reflect the light of Christmas lights. The last ten weeks, my mom’s health suddenly declined and I’ve been more and more caught up in taking care of her and running around trying to get the house ready to celebrate the holidays in the way we always have. I’ve been so caught up in all of it that I didn’t even realize that I had started to miss seeing the little things that had always brought me so much joy.

strawberryJoy for me this year was found in the simplest, smallest act of kindness from a total stranger. A little piece of candy and a smile was all I needed to remind me to stop, breathe, look up, look around and remember the innocence and wonder of childhood. Because when God shows up, at least for me, it’s usually in the littlest of ways.

 

 

Unfinished… A Reevaluation

Last Christmas I wrote:

Right now, I’m doing pretty well and most days it’s not too hard to be thankful but when the stuff hits the fan – and I know sooner or later it will – I want to be cheerful. I want to be appreciative.  And no matter what comes, I want to be thankful for the simple joy of cookies.

When I looked back over 2012 to see if that had been my reality this year, I looked beyond my journals to include my Facebook posts.  I post pretty much every day, all spontaneous stuff: some of it wacky and some of it quite serious, even controversial at times.  I’ve stirred up some real hornet’s nests and I’ve been called a lot of well, shall we say ‘interesting’ things this year.  I’m know I’m not everybody’s cup of tea.  I’m more like a shot of good bourbon, either you can handle me or you can’t.  

But in addition to some of the political and religious posts that riled people up, there were a lot of little moments I’d captured.  The terms Eugenism, Andrewish, Momish, and Somedoggy were born. Friends tell they can always count on my page for a lift. “Compile your posts into a book!” they tell me.  Well I don’t know that there’s enough there for a book, not yet anyway, but I was amazed at how many silly little things I’d captured over the year.  I saw how much joy I’d had over the past year, all of it in the smallest moments of everyday life.  

I had started to pull out a few of my favorite posts to include in my Christmas letter. That letter was sitting on my computer half-finished when the news of the horrific tragedy at Sandy Hook broke.  Suddenly the look back over the year didn’t matter.  Only the right now mattered. I suddenly wanted my boys home with me and I wanted them home now, right that minute.  But Eugene wasn’t at school.  He was wrapping up a three-day field trip at Nature’s Classroom, 45 minutes away and wasn’t due back at school until 2:00.  Andrew was in class at his middle school and thankfully unaware of what had happened.  It took everything in me not to go the school and pull Andrew out early. I had to keep telling myself that my boys were okay.  I was the one who was a mess and I needed to pull it together before I picked them up.  It didn’t work.  I fell apart as soon as I could put my arms around them, take their faces in my hands and tell them how very much I love them.

Over this past week, I’ve tried to resurrect where I was going with that letter I’d started but I can’t.  Then I had a conversation yesterday with Eugene that gave me the perspective on what was in my way. I asked him what was his favorite part of his three days at Nature’s Classroom.

“Thursday night,” he replied without even stopping to think about it, “I saw three shooting stars on the night hike.” Then his voice changed, softened and saddened,  sounding much older than his ten years, “That was before…you know…before Friday.”

Before.  Yes, that’s what was eating at me.  Before.  And now there is nothing but After.  I want my Before back.  I want my sense of security back, however false it may be.  I want that piece of innocence back for myself and for my kids.  Dropping my boys off at school will never feel quite the same again.  But then again, picking them up will never be the same again either.  We’ve hugged tighter this week.  We’ve talked more about the good things in life, taking time to point out the goodness and kindness in people.

That now-scrapped Christmas letter had started off with the observation that our holidays had become a run-together mishmash my friend Kate dubbed ‘Hallothanksmas’.  I’d grown weary of hearing people say they just wanted the next holiday to start so they could ‘get it over with’.  But that was Before.  Now in this new After, we’re quicker with a hug, to say ‘I love you’, to say ‘I’m sorry’, to be considerate or to do some small random act of kindness and it makes me wonder, why did it take something so awful to bring out that goodness in us? 

The gifts of Advent are Peace, Hope, Joy and Love. What happened at Sandy Hook left me very shaken.  That unfinished letter ended up being a letter to myself, reminding me that Peace, Hope, Joy and Love have been very much present in my life this year but they could have been so easily overlooked.  It’s in taking the time to really see, to appreciate and to celebrate them that makes those gifts mean something.  So I will share one of those little moments with you.  This conversation could just as easily be one of my conversations with God,  myself as a child and God as the parent.

Eugene: “Why didn’t you tell me it was easier that way?!”
Mom: “I DID! You just don’t listen to me.”
Eugene: “I listen to you. I just forget to remember.”

Take time to listen.  Take time to remember.  Someday, it may matter far more than you realize.