It’s Christmas Eve Eve. I can’t believe it. I still haven’t wrapped a single gift! Well, I have stuck one or two in red & gold bags with wrinkled tissue paper bursting out of the top in an attempt to appear as though I’m good at making a Christmas gift bag look attractive. But for the most part, I have a lot to do before the “big” day.
This season of Advent has been pretty reflective and meaningful – as meaningful and reflective as I can make it given all the temptations to indulge and get wrapped up in the chaos of this time of year. A lot has happened in my life in 2014. Abbey was born. I could end there and that would be plenty! Jeff & I are learning the imperfect dance of parenthood; as well as figuring out how to do that dance on the balance beam of life in general - work, friends, and family. It’s an adventure, that’s for sure! She is only 10 months old and she is already teaching me so much….so much about trust, about courage, about presence and wonder. These are great lessons to learn at Advent! There are some days when I cry just because I love her so much. To be honest, it scares me. I don’t want to be this out of control. I don’t want to walk so blindly along this path of letting go. But gosh, the joy and the happiness she brings. I wouldn’t trade it for any amount of homemade bourbon balls or those delicious little dates-on-a-Ritz-cracker-with-cream-cheese-frosting cookies that are so sinfully yummy that I could definitely eat the whole bag I was given without thinking twice. The utter joy that I get from her presence in our lives could fill up this entire blog. And I intend to dedicate many blogs and entries especially to her – but for the sake of time, I’ll move on.
Earlier this Fall, Jeff’s 10-year-old cat, Argos, was put down. For those who know me well (embarrassingly well), you know that if I were to say I am sad about Argos being gone, well….it would be a slight diversion of the truth. Does that make me sound like a horrible human being? Yes. Yes, I’m afraid it does. But I can’t lie to you. I feel like Claire from Modern Family when that old man next door who was friends with their son died. She couldn’t help smiling every time she shared the news with others that he was dead. (Okay – making that comparison does not help my case one bit.) I am being brutally honest and it will probably come back to bite me in the butt. Oh well – I’m in too deep now. Might as well keep going….I’m not sad about Argos the cat no longer being alive. I’m not sad that he doesn’t track dirty paws all over my kitchen floors and counters. I’m not sad that he’s not there for me to find him (once again) curled up in our kitchen or bathroom sink waiting for someone to turn on the faucet so that he can drink from it. Ew. I’m not sad that I no longer have to chase him away from uncovered food sitting out because we just pulled leftovers from the fridge and turned away for 10 seconds only to discover that while we went to grab a fork from the drawer, his cat nose was in the leftover casserole container gobbling up my dinner. I’m not sad about any of that. But I will say this: he was Jeff’s first companion. Jeff adopted Argos from the Lexington animal shelter when he was in college and living in an off campus apartment with his buddies. From there the Fat Cat (as I liked to call him) saw Jeff through those difficult but formative seminary years; he reluctantly put up with Jeff adopting another cat, Skeeter; he traveled halfway across the country with Jeff to live in Fort Worth because of that one girl Jeff was engaged to; he reluctantly put up with our adoption of Patch, a shelter dog, who loved to chase Argos around the house and to whom Argos “loved” to hiss and growl; Argos put up with me moving in once Jeff & I got married; he traveled with Jeff back to Kentucky when we got the call to be ministers in Glasgow; and Argos reluctantly put up with the adoption of our second dog, Pepper. That’s a lot of trauma for a cat who would have rather had the house to himself. And so, to sum it up: Jeff loved Argos. Argos loved Jeff. And on his last night on earth (though, even though we knew he was sick, we didn’t know it was going to be his last night), I reluctantly let Argos curl up in the kitchen sink because it really was one of the few things I think that made him happy. See – I do have a heart. When Jeff put Argos down that next September day, it was the third time I have seen him break down in tears. And when he told me that, in those last moments, he held Argos close and whispered a prayer of blessing for his life, I cried too.
Less than a month after Argos died, as we were preparing to take a family vacation to Florida with my mom & dad, Katherine, Chris & Ella - Jeff & I were so ready and excited to take Abbey on her first trip to the beach - I received a phone call at 6:30 one Monday morning from my mom. Granddaddy had been in the hospital following surgery on his broken leg. In the dark hours of the morning of September 29th, the most interesting person on the planet, D.D. Cayce, III, finally gave in to his failing body and breathed his last breath. This was a difficult loss for us all. Granddaddy was one month shy of his 90th birthday. Obviously we are thankful for many, many years spent with him. So many families don’t get a fraction of that time with their loved ones. But as odd as this sounds, it still felt too soon. It still stung sharper than we wanted it to. Sitting in my office now is Granddaddy’s brown leather recliner chair. It smells like him and the seat cushion sinks down on one side, I guess from how he sat in it. It looks a little odd to be the main chair in my small office. It looks big and out of place. A little awkward probably. But that is exactly how I want it. Granddaddy was odd; he was a big man; and he was more than a little socially awkward. And, as I said before, he was the most interesting person on the planet. He knew more random information about, well about pretty much anything, than anyone I’ve ever known. He was a historian of his hometown of Hopkinsville, Kentucky. Not to mention he was treated as royalty by the followers of the sleeping prophet, Edgar Cayce, for whom we are related to and for whom Granddaddy was on the History Channel one time helping to tell the amazing story. He knew the names of people who died years ago whose memory was lost in the space of time and ordinariness. He cared about life – from the smallest seed to its infinite Creator. He was faithful. He was committed. He was one of a kind; you never knew what he was going to say next, or what would end up on his shirt from lunch. I’ve told myself that every time I sit in his chair and then get out I need to exclaim “Oh Mercy Maude!” I can still hear him say it.
In so many ways, from personal life to world happenings, this year has been joyous beyond belief and heartbreaking beyond repair. All at once.
It seems like every year – when we get to the week of Christmas – I would give anything just to add in a few more days. A few more days of Advent, of Christmas carols; of Home Alone and Christmas Vacation; of lights around town; of a spirit that – even as commercialized as it is – can be so beautiful and kind sometimes. Some times. But as it is…. everything will stop, turn off, shut up, and go back to “normal” on the 26th. Even though we don’t have to play the game of “Consumer Christmas”, it’s everywhere else and too many of us seem to be playing. Too many of us try to win – to see who can turn off Christmas the quickest.
And now, a few days shy of my 31st birthday, each year I seem to want a little more…no not gifts (although I’d take them of course…). A little more time – to wait, to wonder, to pray, to sit in the glow of the Christmas lights as the blue light of a December day dawns. And I don’t want this just for me, but for you too. For all of us. For the world. We all get so anxious these days. We are anxious to be busy, and if we aren’t busy then we’re anxious about not being busy enough. We are anxious to be finished with whatever it is that is stressing us out. Anxious to the point of exhaustion…and loss. We lose ourselves, and the art of living, because of this game of anxiety (which gets even more intense and competitive when we play it alongside the game of “Consumer Christmas”).
I think our need to stay busy, the high we get when we go-go-go and get things done, and the inner voice that tells us that we are lazy, unproductive, and worthless if we stop for a moment, or an afternoon, or God-forbid a day - I think this need and this anxiousness to be busy has a lot to do with the pain and suffering of our world. I’m not saying we shouldn’t work; I’m not saying we don’t need to be productive or driven or motivated. I’m not saying any of that. But I am saying that there is a difference between being busy and needing to be busy. There’s a difference between having a lot to do and thinking that it is the best way or the only way to be. There’s a difference between living a busy life and living a busy life until you become anxious and numb, with your steering wheel stuck to cruise control. And that is when suffering and pain and hurt can happen. When we forget to look inward; when we refuse to stop; when we put off rest for another day and then another day and then another day. That’s when, I believe, we lost sight of who we are…and we lose sight of God. All that happens next is the fall-out.
I get it that there is a lot to be anxious about in this season – the most “wonderful” time of the year. I get it that there is a lot to cry about. I get it, I really do. I see it every day. I live it too. And, at the same time, at the very same time – there’s a lot to be thankful for. There is a lot to celebrate. And that is worth the wait. That is worth the rest, and the prayer, and the thoughtful work of Advent. It is why – to the disappointment of my inner 8 year-old self – I need a few more days before Christmas. Not because I want to prolong the pain and suffering of a broken world. Not because I like being off work, or just want to live life in my pajamas all the time (even though lots of days this sounds like a wonderful idea). But because it is in this kind of waiting…this kind of Advent waiting…. that we can see the glow of the star. We can hear the song of the angels. We listen for the cry of new life. We can cry for the loss of what once was. We can pay attention to the kindness of strangers and we can allow ourselves to receive and give love just for the heck of it. This is the kind of Advent waiting that can really change the world. I believe that. I really, really do. Just some days more than others. And that’s why I need a few more days before tomorrow.
That’s why I sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”
“O Come, Desire of nations, bind all peoples in one heart and mind; bid envy, strife and quarrels cease; fill the whole world with heaven’s peace. Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!”