December–The Quiet Month

I actually wrote this blog a year ago. Called “Confessions of a December Dropout,” I wrote it to give myself–and anyone else who needed it–permission to opt out of the crazy hustle and noise of the season. Turns out I need that message even more this year than I did a year ago. The weariness I felt in December ’15 I feel even more deeply now, and the quietness that beckoned me twelve months ago calls with even greater insistence today. So, here’s to a quiet month, a month of slowed down hours and simple pleasures, a month of deep healing and profound joy and the anticipation of new birth. Join me?

As a child I loved December. I loved the music, the decorations, the gift giving, the church Christmas programs, the family gatherings. Every Christmas Eve my mom and dad, brother and I slept overnight on couches and in sleeping bags at my aunt and uncle’s house. My brother and I loved joining the chaos created by our six cousins—five girls and a boy. Christmas morning broke early and after a slow reading of the Christmas story, the pandemonium of wrappings and ribbons and exclamations of delight began. I loved it! Every year I loved it!

But after thirty years as an adult, managing Christmas in a pastor’s family, I had to admit that I hated December. December = rush. December = stress. December = impossible expectations. December = anything but peace, joy and love.

So I started saying no to December.

I quit sending Christmas cards. Actually I’d quit sending them years earlier. But every year I still bought them, thinking that year I’d send them for sure. Now I don’t pretend. I know I’m not going to send them so I don’t even buy them.

I quit decorating my house for Christmas. I actually love Christmas decorations and I used to spend days decorating the house—with a different, lovely theme each year. But somewhere along the way it started feeling more like work than pleasure. So I started doing less…and less…and less.

This year, whenever the grandsons come over, they pick out whatever decorations they choose from the Christmas boxes in the basement and we display them wherever they choose. We’ve got Christmas stockings hanging in some very interesting places this year, and not much else. We won’t win any decorating awards, but seriously, if it delights the little boys it delights their nana!

I quit hosting parties. One reason I used to decorate so lavishly is that we hosted a big annual party. We’d move furniture out and set up tables throughout the living area of the house, offering a sit-down dinner for international guests visiting the Chicago area. It was lovely, much appreciated, and it made me miserable. I’m not the hostess with the mostest. I tried. It made sense in my heart. But it makes more sense now, with the party hosted by someone else—by a woman who could pull it off with one arm tied behind her back and a smile on her face.

Now during December I’m big on spur-of-the-moment visits with close friends. Nothing beats a cup of tea in front of the fireplace—a moment of calm—with someone you love but don’t see as often as you’d like.

I quit going to the mall. My shopping list gets shorter and shorter each year. This year, if you’re not one of my grandsons, you’re probably not on my list. Sorry. I’ve never been a good shopper—and I’m especially bad in December.

I don’t do cookie exchanges. Last week 4-year-old Mac and I made sugar cut-out cookies—mostly stars because the star cookie cutters (in multiple sizes) worked much better than Santa and his sleigh (clearly a bad design). Our cookies were neither gorgeous nor delicious. But boy did we have fun! And boy did the red and green sprinkles end up everywhere! Actually, Mac and I did exchange cookies with our initials on them, so I guess—technically—I did do a cookie exchange this year.

So, with all that stuff I don’t do in December, what do I do?

I listen to music really loud. I tend to go heavy on flute and harp. Alternative. Instrumentals. Ballads. Whatever makes me happy on a given day.

I write notes. This is not the same as sending Christmas cards. There’s no list. Sometimes it’s just a fleeting thought of someone that prompts me to write a few words of cheer. I wish I did this twelve months a year, but I don’t.

I sit in a chair and look out the window. Eleven months a year I’m an introvert living a very extroverted life. In December I introvert to my soul’s content. I let life simmer because I need to before I begin a New Year.

I enjoy my aging parents. Last December I visited my mom early in the month and realized her health was failing faster than I’d thought. Because my December was so uncluttered I was free to stay with her in Michigan for most of the month. She died last July and I am so very thankful I had that slowed-down Christmas with her last year. Tomorrow I’ll go to visit my dad, grateful I have the December-freedom to do this.

I lean into the Joy of Advent. I spent much of the past November in Iraq, Israel and Palestine, meeting with war-weary, suffering people. I entered December weary myself, as we all are now. Weary of war and violence and hatred and fear. Weary of wordy politicians and incomprehensible extremists and thoughtless pundits.

Weary. Weary. Weary.

So, I light a candle in the darkness of the early morning, turn to my assorted Advent books, and search for words of hope, for promises of life, for assurances of a better end to our story than what we are seeing now.  Though it looks in many ways like hatred and fear are winning, I’ve seen real-life heroes in frightening places loving bravely in Jesus’ name.

In January I’ll get back to work, hopefully in a way that is true to the Kingdom Jesus brought to earth. But for now, in December, I sit, I wait, I ponder the beauty and joy of that Kingdom—and I allow myself to be refreshed by the mere thought of it.

I don’t expect most people to drop out of December as I have. I’m old and everybody knows I lean toward the counter-cultural, so I manage to get away with it. But maybe you, or you, or you, will at least find a little freedom here to say no to an occasional December demand, or to a particularly draining (for you) expectation. Maybe that will give you a moment, or an hour, or a day to invest differently this December, to invest in a more soul-filling way.

And if you’re one who thrives in the chaotic noise and stimulation and pace and festivities of December, I cheer you on.  I’ll stand in the back and enjoy all that you create and host and send and bake and give and present to the world.  I’ll be your quiet little sister saying, Wow, look at that! Isn’t that great! Isn’t she amazing!

December is a glorious challenge—full of potential and pitfalls in equal measure. My prayer is that with a little thought and decisiveness, many of us will be able to look back in January and say, Wasn’t that a great December!

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What I’m Thankful For

I actually wrote this blog the weekend before the election. I decided that for two days I would shut out the steady stream of negative and depressing political rhetoric and focus on a few things I’m thankful for. Unfortunately, before I could post the blog, my computer succumbed to a severe virus and crashed. But as the negative and depressing political rhetoric continues—and as Thanksgiving approaches—I offer these humble and meandering thoughts. Continue reading

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Hear the Mother’s Prayer: Bring Down the Peace!

The following is a guest post from my dear Israeli friend Lisa Loden. Lisa is a theologian, a leader of contemplative prayer retreats, an advocate for women in leadership…but mostly, she is a courageous and passionate peacemaker who longs to see God’s people living the reality of reconciliation. On October 19, Lisa joined thousands of Israeli and Palestinian women in a March of Hope sponsored by Women Wage Peace. I guarantee you will be inspired by Lisa’s description of the march.

Guest Post by Lisa Loden

As someone who longs for and actively pursues peace, to join a march with thousands of women who share this passion was not much of a question for me. Despite never having taken part in a public march, this one, from the first time I heard about it seemed right. It was more than right; it was a hope-inspiring journey for me. Continue reading

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I Am My Sister’s Keeper

News from war zones has been particularly tragic this week: A deadly airstrike in Aleppo, Syria. A brutal ISIS attack on a refugee camp in Iraq. A massacre by an extremist militia on innocent villagers in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

If you’ve already read this post, just scroll to the end where I’ve provided links to some of my favorite organizations offering help and hope in these regions. These are all organizations whose work I’ve visited and respect.

If this post is new to you, read on…. Continue reading

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Falling In Love With Iraq Via Istanbul

Twice in the last 14 months I was in Istanbul on my way to Iraq. With 8-hour evening layovers, my friends and I decided to make the most of it. Those two brief, whirlwind tours were all it took for us to fall in love with this amazing city where east and west have met for centuries.

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Summer Sabbatical

Today is the official “first day” of a three-month writing sabbatical. I say “writing” as if I am actually going to write. Maybe I will. Or maybe I just need time to think.

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Fifteen years ago when I turned fifty—after a decade of painful reflection, slow rediscovery and deep healing—I was ready to put the past behind me and lean into life again. Continue reading

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Israeli & Palestinian Women Against Violence

Since 2009 I’ve traveled to the Holy Land two or three times each year to learn from Israelis and Palestinians committed to peace. I’ve met incredible men and women–Jews, Muslims and Christians–religious and secular–who show up day after day to work together for the sake of a nonviolent resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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Among these heroic, steadfast people is a group of Israeli and Palestinian women–all followers of Jesus–who have completely captured my heart and earned my deepest respect. Refusing to let the hostility and hopelessness of their respective communities define them, they have chosen the long, slow path of learning each other’s stories and experiences. Continue reading

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A Few Thoughts on Guns & The Armor of Light

I originally wrote this post in February, 2013, when my friends at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism invited me to join the Faiths Calling initiative to help stop rampant gun violence. In the wake of the tragedy of Sandy Hook, they were seeking laws that could make our nation safer. Sadly, such laws are yet to be passed. 

I’ve revised the blog for a new purpose: to support the important documentary, The Armor of Light, showing tonight on PBS at 8/7c. I’ve met the filmmaker, Abigail Disney, and Rev. Rob Schenck whose story is told in the film. Together, they’re committed to creating a new conversation about guns in America. It’s an important film for all followers of Jesus to watch and consider.

Several years ago, when my then 27-year-old son was preparing to sail a 42-foot sailboat around the world, concerned friends and family members asked the inevitable question: will he keep a gun on board?  It’s not uncommon for ocean-crossing sailors to carry guns as a defense against pirates, but there’s an ongoing debate.  Continue reading

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Kilimanjaro #3: Remembering the Mountain, Remembering My Mom

A year ago I took my Mom to the garden center to get flowers we could plant on Mother’s Day. Over the previous two years, as her aging mind had increasingly lost track of much it had once known, this remained: her passion for flowers.

In the early morning hours she was still “the Queen surveying her Kingdom” as she walked between her tiny flower beds.

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Christians, Muslims and the Golden Rule

“Do you think it’s safe to meet with the Christians? I’m afraid they will hurt you. Please text me as soon as the meeting is done, so I’ll know you’re okay.”

These were the words of a junior high-aged Muslim boy when he learned that his Muslim American mother was going to meet with a small group of Christians. He was sure she was entering a very dangerous situation.

The mother shared her son’s words when I asked her what it was like to be a Muslim in America in 2016.

On a wintery Saturday morning several friends and I were gathered with about fifteen Muslim men and women in a small meeting room in a mosque not far from our church. Continue reading

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