This is a post that will bore most of you to tears, but I seem to need to write it so come back again on another day when it is more kid talk, adoption talk, whatever it is that you most enjoy about visiting me here.
Don't laugh, but I am about to reveal to you all what a huge geek I am. OK, you can laugh if you want to as then at least I will know I brought a smile to your face.
Is there ANYTHING at all in the world as wonderful as hearing Karen Carpenter singing "The Christmas Song" (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)??? To me, that alone says "Christmas" more than anything else. As I was driving home from the retreat I was listening to a Carpenter's Christmas CD that I treated myself to for the holiday and once again found myself thinking that she had the single most beautiful voice I have ever heard in my life. If I could really sing, hers is the one voice I would kill to have...so rich, so smooth, so uniquely hers and when I hear it there is an innocence that comes through for me that is not heard in the voices of today's popular songstresses...Mariah, Whitney, Beyonce...while they all have extraordinary talent and range, there is a "show off" quality to their singing, an arrogance that is never present in Karen Carpenter's deeper melodic voice. I imagine it as being as smooth and warming as brandy must be...but then again since I have never drank brandy or anything else for that matter that is ridiculous for me to try and make that comparison, but you know what I am saying.
Driving home along deserted winding mountain roads after my retreat this weekend, stars above me as Karen's music serenaded me, I was filled with a sense of warmth and peace I haven't had in quite awhile. My life the past 8 or 9 years has been a series of dramatic highs and lows, it has been an awakening to a deeper part of myself as I have matured as a woman and as I have invited God in to gradually become the most important part of my life. The changes in me have happened slowly, but as I look back at the bitter, mistrusting, angry woman I once was about 10 years ago to the person I am today I am amazed at the work God has done. I have learned to love in new ways, I have been released...albeit slowly...from the feeling of being utterly alone in the world. All that "new person in Christ" stuff seems so canned and corny, and I tend to shy away from those catch phrases that most Christians use as for me they are almost too trendy and commercialized, almost like Christmas itself is. While I understand the deeper meaning behind all the "WWJD" bracelets, etc. and I have no problem with them, that kind of expression of Christianity has never really fit me well.
But I can not deny that I AM indeed a new person in Christ, "canned phrase" or not, that simply coming to the conclusion that my life works better with God in it than it did without Him as much a daily part of my life has literally transformed me into the woman I had hoped I could be(although definitely still a work in progress). I feel and see joy in the midst of the negative where before I couldn't, I feel protected, nurtured...safe. I no longer dwell on others' failings but instead often can see the success within the failure. My glass is now half full far more olften than not, and my heart runneth over at moments. I think that as I reflected on all of this during my drive, I realized just how far I have come from the Cindy of 10 years ago...and how the unhappy events and the challenges brought me to where I am today. With maturity I can see how I am still being molded, and it is very cool to step back and see yourself from the outside and be able to smile at the work in progress, for surely that is what it is and I recognized that this weekend during the retreat more than ever.
Initially I was very intimidated, feeling insecure and inadequate as I approached this weekend. I still am feeling that way, if I am being honest, but have realized I am not going to let it stop me. Part of the insecurity comes from having no clue or clear cut answer as to why I am doing this, the faith part of it is coming in the form of trusting that I feel I am doing what I have been told and letting go of the control of "needing to know" everything. The vision of me ministering to ANYONE is almost laughable to me, and yet I guess He has something in mind that I can not yet see.
I have never spent that much extended time dedicated to nothing more than growing my soul, to attend to the spiritual and shutting out anything else. It was a treat to go to something that was nurturing to me and not have to be a part of the planning or running of it. It was also a gift to be with a small group of others who are like minded, who are yearning to learn more and go deeper than what they can in their daily lives, although they each seemed to have a more clear answer about the "Why" of their participation than I do. Believe it or not, I actually succeeded in leaving all thoughts of everything else behind which I have never really been able to do and took some real work on my part. I even had something come up on my drive over that a few years back would have totally derailed me but this time did not, and I was pleased to be able to take this period of time to do nothing more than simply be...be present in the moment...be present for myself. It is something I have never been able to do before. Even as young child I was always talking about 10 years down the road and my mom used to joke with me about it.
The retreat was held at La Foret, where our children go to summer camp and a place which due to my week there with Kenny has already come to have great meaning to me. The Black Forest where the camp is located was already blanketed in snow, and as much as I enjoyed the spiritual activities I think what I would have loved even more would have been to have an hour to just walk and talk to God and myself. Surrounded by tall pines and the occasional squirrel and with very few other people present, it was the perfect place to just rest. If I hadn't had a couple of obligations at church the next morning, I would have more than likely spent the night again and been able to grab a little more time for myself and to take that long walk my soul seemed to crave.
There were so many things touched on during my short time there, but one of the predominant themes that stood out for me was God's BIGNESS and how many different ways there are to approach our relationship with our God. During discussions about spiritual practices I somehow found myself thinking about the myriad ways we all come to God...that each denomination serves its purpose and there is no "right" or "wrong", but merely another appendage to God's church that we as humans sometimes fail to see as necessary diversity. Each person has different needs, will find different spiritual practices that best fit them just as they will find the church that best fulfills their needs...but we as humans have this need to see "our way" as the only way, the right way, the best way, the only "truth". God is much bigger than that I think. The arguing about theology and finer points of faith practices only push us further from God and drive us further away from deeper fellowship with one another. Why IS it so hard for us to accept one anothers differing perspectives? And as I read what I have wrote, why is it that THIS is what stood out for me at the retreat when it was not really discussed at all in this context?
I also enjoyed very much the points that were brought up about the physical versus the spiritual, about blending the two and about balance, about living in a 2D world without the spiritual versus a 3D world with it. Balance seems to be the theme for the year for me, not necessarily in a personal sense but it is something I have seen a need for in general in our world today in a larger scope as we have come through this political season, as I ponder the meaning of our faith lives combined with our "real" lives and wonder why it is we all have a tendency to compartmentalize our lives rather than blend them...for we would be healthier and happier for it.
I was only gone for one night, but coming home to my family is always a gentle nudge about how blessed I am. Yea, I know, you've already heard that too much on this blog but TOO BAD!! This is for them, remember? So skip a paragraph if you have even decided to read today at all. I see other families we know around town, those we interact with on occasion or who we know of, and I think that in comparison we must at times look like such goofballs. We LOVE each other, I mean LOVE. We FEEL it when we are apart from one another, all of us. When Kenny is away spending the night at a friends house, when Dominick was away in California, when I was gone, there is a hole in our family that is not able to be filled. The gentleness of my sons is the single greatest blessing of my life, their genuine warmth for one another and for us as their parents is beyond anything I ever could have hoped for prior to becoming a mom. It sustains me and all of us throughout our days, knowing we can come home to this family once again. When we said our good nights last night, we talked about what our best part of the weekend was and Matthew said "My favorite part was when you surprised us when you came home and we all hugged" as I had snuck in the door and hidden behind a couch to pop up and surprise them. Sitting in the pew at church yesterday morning I felt as if each one of the boys was gently expressing their love for me and their joy at my presence with a hug, a head on my shoulder, an arm around me.
Yesterday I spent the afternoon with Matthew alone as Joshie and Kenny were playing at a friends house and Matt elected to remain home with me while Dominick was working on a project at church. He and I have not had any "alone time" in quite awhile, and we both treasure it when we have it. We did the mundane things of life, grocery shopped, cleaned the house, wrapped presents for our girls to get in the mail, played a game of "horse" outside with the basketball, nothing earth shattering. Yet again I saw the emerging man in Matthew, one who I like even more if that is possible than the boy he still largely is. As we walked through the store together talking about school and meals and he pushed the cart for me, as he said "Mom, I'll take the bedroom and back half of the house while you clean the kitchen and dining room", as I was interrupted while wrapping the girls packages with a phone call and he continued on finishing the job and then carefully labeling things in Russian, I was filled with the companionship of simply being with my son who is a really, really nice and thoughtful boy. I sometimes wish that those doting parents or weekend fathers who seem to think that all time spent with their children has to be an "event" would be able to see that relationships are built within the mundane and celebrated with the events rather than the other way around. Shooting hoops with Matthew, playing Sorry with Josh, or reading a book snuggled on the couch with Kenny is where our relationships are built...the every day boring times. And I realized a need for more of it and less busy-ness.
I also came to a realization this week of why I have spent every year waiting until the last minute to finish my Christmas shopping. The anniversary of my Dad's death has arrived, and that Christmas was the last Christmas when I actually had everything done early, bought and paid for, wrapped and ready to go. His death the first week of December left me staring at wrapped gifts that would eventually have to be returned. I'll never forget standing at the return counter at the department store with a lump so big in my throat I could hardly speak as I was asked my reason for returning, and how I quickly made up something before the tears could spill. I think that I have somehow equated being done with shopping early with his death all these years, and it has kept me from moving forward to try and have a less frenetic holiday season. This year I have been successful at pushing past that, and I'll admit it feels good...yet a part of me still feels as if I am waiting for bad news, for the other shoe to drop.
I miss my Dad so much as I think of Christmas's spent laying on the floor staring up at the twinkling tree lights in the dark, whispering with him about what Santa might bring and yes, having Karen Carpenter or Bing or Perry singing softly on the K-Tel Christmas record playing on the console stereo system. I wish I could witness the same thing with my own children and my Dad, perhaps with a CD versus a record playing in the background and with snow outside instead of a warmer California evening as I had growing up.
We have a friend who is also missing someone this Christmas, though a couple of years have passed, and we will be spending the evening with him at his invitation as we all focus on the present and decorate his home with him. For no matter the strength of the depth of the loss, life does march on and we can submit ourselves to the sorrow or we can CHOOSE joy and light and happiness, finding it in the ways we can. Reaching out to others is something I am learning to do, but am not very good at, and this friend is one who is teaching me this lesson by example and I am so glad to have received the call this morning from him which will allow us as a family to share time with him and make memories ourselves.
Maybe the peace of the season is reaching me finally, I am such a slow learner! While there are so many unanswered questions facing me from many corners of my life, I am also filled with many certainties as well and that brings great peace. The material gifts may be fewer this year but the love will be greater and the focus on that is what makes the season all it can be.