Sorry about no pie video today. Dominick had to work and then we had a couple other things planned so it didn't work out. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, we are all set for tomorrow night and will upload the video upon completion.
It's a week before Christmas, and we have had a special time leading up to the celebration of the birth of Christ. A friend and I were talking today about the Advent workshop we attended a few weeks back, and how it helped put so many things into proper perspective. Now, as we draw nearer, it is time to evaluate where we sit in terms of keeping our Advent promises to ourselves.
We have definitely had a paradigm shift, but it was not necessarily brought on by the insight we gained at the workshop. Instead we gained strength and assurance as we moved forward in further downsizing Christmas. We have been heading down that path the past few years and thankfully made even more progress this year, although honestly some of it is out of necessity. We simply don't have the funds to do as we wish we could do for others. With 5 kids, most of whom are tweens, even buying a gift or two for them is hard. They are out of the inexpensive Matchbox car stage, much to our chagrin. We are seriously grateful though that not a single child has asked for a single thing. Anything we get them will be appreciated, and that takes a little of the pressure off, for I can't imagine how hard it would be to have all 5 begging for specific expensive items like iPods or such, for we just couldn't do it. Other than school related items or clothing, we don't really buy them anything at all throughout the year, so we do like to get them each something nice at Christmas.
Don't get me wrong, not a single one of them is really doing without, for we feel that what they have is perfectly adequate and I think they do as well. But we do wish at moments that we had more to share with others, for there are so many who have offered so much to us. We often are not in a position to repay it and find ourselves settling for "paying it forward" in much smaller ways to other people. We try, but it always seems like it is never enough, for often all we have to offer is...well...us. A hug, a call, the gift of presence rather than presents, as our church sign said last week. And I'll bet for some, that gift of the "presence" of the LaJoy's is a bit overwhelming! Hahaha!
A key thing for me this year was to internalize the idea of having "enough" in an area unrelated to consumerism. It has more to do with not buying into the media packaging of the holiday, showing us images of the perfect family gatherings with tons of relatives around the table smiling as they start to carve up the turkey. It has to do with ignoring the Hallmark Card expectations that our holidays have to have perfectly decorated houses, lots of glittery parties to attend, and matching Christmas PJ's on everyone in order for it to feel like an authentic Christmas worthy of remembering. TV specials, magazine ads, and modern Christmas songs all set up a standard of perfection that is unattainable for just about everyone. We then find ourselves looking around with a sense of longing to have a holiday that looks like it came from a scene in a made for TV movie, or a Norman Rockwell painting.
Holiday gatherings today are comprised of singles with a group of caring friends, families like ours whose parents and siblings live far away, couples without children, same sex couples, families with alcoholics and drug addicts making appearances at holiday tables, gatherings of seniors whose kids all live far away and in this day and age can't always afford to travel, a single person sitting at a table alone with the sounds of a Christmas carol on the radio quietly in the background, inmates who long to be with family who may never visit, children in orphanages who create family amongst their peers yet yearn for a family of their own. Very seldom do you find the perfect scenario at Christmas or any other holiday, and if you wait for that sort of perfection to allow yourself to be filled with the contentment that comes from knowing in your heart that what you have is "enough", your life will be spent in an endless circle of waiting for what might never be, in order to feel complete.
All of this really though, is missing the point anyway. It is not about us, is it? It is not about who has the perfect family photo, the best tree, the most sitting around the table this year. We miss the point entirely when we focus on those things.
It is about a baby being born, one who would lead us to live a life that is rich with an abundance that can not come from a large bank account or driving around in the latest model car. How did the holiday come to mean what it means today, when really it's about a baby born into poverty and not at all about consumerism or perfection? I take comfort from recognizing that Jesus' birth date...the one the world has distorted so much, was essentially a mess. Certainly the scene would not be a set up for one of those Norman Rockwell pieces...a kid born to two low income parents, mom finding herself in some animal stall as her newborn lay down beside her in a straw filled manger. No extended family present, no well appointed home...just the raw beauty of the everlasting love that parents have for a child. That was enough.
Makes you wonder how many families throughout the world would find themselves content with that sort of Christmas, and how many would find it quite lacking.
I think we ought to hold that first Christmas up as the standard of what our own Christmas' should be like. It would be a very different world if we all recognized that the first Christmas was the best ever, and tried to emulate that one rather than the media hyped holiday mess we all find ourselves stumbling through these days.
What we have, what we have been given, what we are blessed enough to experience in our lives is good enough, even if it isn't perfect. We can find God in it all...in the drawing back to family that the drug addict feels at Christmas time which leads him or her to the family table. We can find God in the prison inmates who share Christmas carols in the quiet of the evening as they quietly sing in an unlikely choir. We can find God in the homeless man on the street who greets you with a toothless yet heartfelt Merry Christmas as he stands before you with torn and tattered clothing. We can even find God setting down at the table with that huge turkey in the midst of a family filled with tension and simmering anger, for at least that family who struggles to hold it together has not yet given up.
Jesus' birth meant something, and we can find that something if we look through the right lens. Sometimes though, we have our sunglasses on and they obscure the important stuff.
I don't live with Norman Rockwell, and I'll bet most of you don't either. The wonderful news is that we don't have to, and that does not invalidate our lives.