Let’s Acknowledge Our Holiday Tensions

The trees are nearly bare, and leaves cover the ground.

It’s taking a long time for Autumn to visibly come to an end here in Georgia, and we still have a few weeks left.

We wait and wait for the next season to come, and when it does, we forget how magical it is. We forget that the leaves changing and falling are teaching us something every day about the way things work, perhaps about magic, perhaps about love. We are still learning to love and honor the earth’s ways, and we are still learning to love and know ourselves.

I continue to be amazed at my AHA! moments, how they come from nowhere and tell me something new that I never realized, or something I had forgotten over the years. As an adult (and still not sure what that means half the time) I come to these moments when I’m face to face with child-Kaitlin, and all the ways she was kept from knowing and loving herself.

Knowing myself as an adult is knowing and loving my child-self, especially during the holidays. It means I have to invest in self-care, acknowledging what is hard, what is beautiful, and what is good. It means I lean into myself, into the truth, as I watch those last leaves fall.

 

We cancelled Thanksgiving.

November is always a hard month. Despite it being Native American Heritage Month, we watched people carry on toxic stereotypes of Indigenous peoples around the Thanksgiving narrative, especially in public schools.

Despite the difficulty, I romanticize the idea of a meal around a table, because I want these moments of hospitality and community to be perfect, meaningful, and good. I was ready to hold a special Friendsgiving meal with my family and a few friends, in the safety of my questions. I was going to cook Indigenous dishes and speak truth and acknowledgment. Then I got a stomach virus. Everything was cancelled.

And when, as life happens, things don’t turn out so good or meaningful, I’m left disappointed. I struggle with the tension of holding things loosely and being okay with things not working out when I hoped so much for them.

I struggle with the tension of things left unresolved.

 

 

Christmas is coming, with all its tension.

We celebrate Christmas. Maybe you don’t, or you celebrate it differently than we do, or you struggle with the consumerism baked into this time of year. It’s a struggle to know how to celebrate.

On Friday, my oldest son helped me bring things down from upstairs– containers of ornaments, a small light-up village, the cookie jar shaped like a Christmas tree. Just like every other year, we took down the Autumn decorations and replaced them with a wooden Santa who burns German incense and small bottle brush trees, but my mind was elsewhere.

I was examining a situation I could do nothing to control, but one that brought me stress nonetheless. The non-confrontational, people-pleaser in me can’t deal with those lack of resolves, but here was one, sitting in my gut for days. This time, I let it stay there, acknowledging its presence, speaking truth to my own psyche.

The holidays can be bring up our most unhealthy habits, like codependence, or the reality of toxic relationships coming to the forefront.

The holidays are an opportunity to ask who we were and who we are, to be honest, but to be gentle. We lean into ourselves, breathe, and take care.

We rest in the tension and ask what it might teach us.

 

We bought the tree on Saturday.

Right after Thanksgiving, I began to see Instagram and Facebook posts of happy couples, cutting down their very own Christmas trees in the woods, perfect moments of togetherness captured in real time.

What we didn’t see was the couple bickering about which tree would fit in their home, or the person struggling to get their tree down, or a single person with no children cutting down a tree just for themselves to celebrate the holiday. We didn’t see that those places aren’t accessible for disabled folks who may also want Christmas trees. Things are not always as they seem.

We curate perfect pictures of what we think the holidays should be, down to the trees we pick and the ways we choose them. But sometimes, the holidays are far from perfect, and it’s okay to acknowledge that.

On Saturday, I stayed home, resting, while Travis and the kids picked out a tree from Home Depot. I played Nat King Cole and sat in the chair by the window, taking videos of everyone pulling out their favorite ornaments, feeling angry that my body hadn’t gotten over the flu yet.

Still, everything was right and good–my kids’ joy, the homemade ornaments, the shape of the tree, the pre-lit garland decorating the mantle.

The tension dissipated and we were together, despite what imperfections remained in those spaces.

 

Sometimes, I want to believe in Santa.

It is magical to be a child, to believe in things that we cannot always comprehend. Whether we grew up being told about Santa or not, we grew up seeing a world full of possibility before we were taught to see the reality of pain as well. Some of us came to the reality of pain far too young, and it cost us something, taking away our ability to be carefree.

Sometimes, especially during the holidays, I want to crawl into a cocoon of childlikeness. So badly, I want to believe in this man that roams the earth, giving gifts to kids, making dreams come true. I want to believe in magic.

I don’t want to believe that we must be so good that some guy will put us on a good list and punish our mistakes with coal–I grew up believing that of both Santa and of God, and I don’t want to go back. But I want to believe in the generous spirit of giving that never runs dry, in people who choose to be good to one another.

The work of being human is more akin to becoming less like Scrooge before the ghosts visited and more like Scrooge after the ghosts visited.

Our call and our magic is simply this: we must care for each other.

 

The holidays are riddled with grief, and that’s okay.

Don’t let anyone rush your grief. 

Maybe we don’t hear this enough during the holidays, because we are being convinced that just buying another gift at Target will solve our problems. But we all know we can’t escape grief, because it belongs to us, teaches us, often haunts us. The holidays are certainly no exception.

We hear holiday songs about snow on the ground and lights and shoppers merrily spending their hard-earned money on gifts for their loved ones. And while we hope for such picture-perfect moments, the reality is, we know our own grief and the grief of others.

Maybe we’re acknowledging that we don’t have enough money to make it through the holidays. Maybe we are coming to terms with broken relationships that cannot be mended.

We remember friends who’ve lost family members this year and in years past. We remember that things are never the same when loss happens.

This year, a friend reached out during November to ask if there’s anything she could do to care for me in this season because she recognizes it’s difficult for me. She cared for a need, and because of her kindness, I’m trying to care for others. Grief is a process, and so is meeting each other’s needs, as small or big as they may be. Wherever we are, whatever way grief is working in us, it’s okay to not always feel okay.

 

In the New Year, we will learn to breathe.

We will get through Christmas or whatever holiday comes our way, with all the family tension and grief and relational stress it might bring. Maybe it will be the best Christmas yet, or maybe we will struggle with what to ask for because we have no idea what we could possibly need besides a new pair of socks. Maybe we need too much and we will never really get it.

But maybe the small moments will bless us, staring at that one ornament or Christmas card knowing it was made with love and care. Maybe we can believe in ourselves and community.

Maybe we can make an entire list of new years resolutions because we want to be our best selves yet, or maybe we can tattoo the call to

B R E A T H E

on our hearts and on the hearts of our loved ones so that when 2020 comes, we know that the power of stopping and resting will give us the room to lean into our hopes and dreams, to do the good work that waits for us.

We can’t change everything about our toxic systems with one resolution, and we can’t change everything about ourselves with one resolution. But we can begin with breathing, with the quiet, with a good cup of coffee and a conversation with ourselves and with the Divine in and around us.

A new year means a new breath.

 

Onward, together.

I still believe in Us.

Whatever the holiday season holds for you and for me, we will get through it together.

In whatever capacity we are working to decolonize, we do it for the sake of all of us, for a better community, for a better Us.

In whatever capacity we name our grief, we do it because others grieve, too.

We watch that last leaf fall or that first snowflake appear, and we recognize the tension. We see Christmas ads that display toxic consumerism and we hope for another way.

We believe in the magic of loving one another.

We believe in the sacred art of breathing deep.

We trust and learn and acknowledge the tension of what it means to be human.

Onward, together, friends.

Happy Holidays.

 


 

 

In case you missed it, I wrote a Holiday Blessing recently.

Feel free to use it for any holiday gatherings that seem fitting.

 

Grief Has a Voice (Are You Listening?)

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At the worst of times, in the worst of places, we hear the whisper.

“There’s something more to this,” it says.

“Lean in,” it implores.

We aren’t often told that the Holy Spirit and Grief are partners.

Mostly, we’re taught a narrative that they oppose one another, that we should trust the Spirit but keep the words of Grief far, far from our hearts, because she will surely tell us something we don’t want to hear. She will surely break us and we won’t know how to put it back together again.

But if we imagine Grief and the Spirit as partners, the voice of God takes on human flesh all over again, for Jesus's life was full of grieving.

He grieved as he left home, when his days of carpentry were over.

He grieved when he moved through the wilderness and into his calling.

He grieved from Gethsemane.

It taught him who he was.

And every season of shedding a piece of his identity only to take on a purer one required the work of Grief– holy work, indeed.

We are people who numb, fix, and manipulate pain.

But Grief has something important to say, whether we want to hear it or not.

I suggest we try.

Because when we realize that we are not the only ones who are grieving– that all of humanity grieves, individually and collectively– we understand how the Spirit works.

The Spirit, birthed from Jesus himself as a gift to us, leads us out of isolation and toward one another.

And when we get there, it doesn’t mean that Grief’s work is done, that we’ve arrived at a place of joy, with no more sadness or sorrow.

It means that we continue listening to what Grief has to say, and we do it together.

She teaches us to care for our enemies.

She teaches us to forgive.

She teaches us to let God mend our hearts.

She leads us out of racism, sexism, greed, bigotry, and idolatry.

She calls us toward wholeness, if we only let her do the work.

And the Spirit holds her hand along the way.

So my friend, next time you hear Grief whispering for you, pay attention.

She is a gift in a form we don’t always understand.

But her voice is universal.

We are a nation grieving.

We live on an earth that grieves.

We go to church and synagogue and temple with grieving people.

We share sidewalks and cubicles and turning lanes with others who grieve.

That’s why Shalom’s work is not yet done.

And for all the distortions of peace that come with our bodies and souls, Grief and Shalom are partners, too, teaching us that community always works alongside the moving parts of everyone.

And we’ve got to work through the pain to get to the other side.

“First the pain, then the rising.”

–Glennon Doyle Melton

So may we lean in.

May we listen.

May we grieve.

And may we journey toward Shalom together.

 

Amen.

When The Good Things Become Visible

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Mno waben. Mno waben.

I held my three year old son in the early morning light,  held him in the middle of my room as he stumbled in after waking up from his night of rest.

We are learning our language, the language of the Potawatomi people, words that were carried for centuries by word of mouth and then put down on paper in a readable and writable language.

The words carry so much in themselves. The stories, the imagery, the use of body language to tell the tale– this is how the world has worked for centuries.

We continue the tradition today.

It will take a good long while to be comfortable in speaking the Potawatomi language. We sit down at the computer and we recite the words again and again, hoping they stick.

We aren’t quite learning through immersion, but we’re trying to immerse ourselves, anyway. So in the mornings, I try to say mno waben, good morning to both of my boys.

Mno waben. 

Literally, it means that good time when things become visible.

So I wake with my sons and we proclaim that it is good for things to come into the light. It is good for our lives to become visible to the light of day.

We spend so much of our time running.

We run because we don’t know how to slow down.

We run from our pain, our worries, our sorrows.

We run from the things that make us uncomfortable.

We run from intimacy, from vulnerability.

Sometimes we run from God.

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But in the morning, we wake to find that things are made visible– and it is good.

It is good that we lay our souls bare to the light.

It is good that we say hello to another dawn.

It is good that we journey into an awareness that we are not alone, and therefore, we are invited to know ourselves, to know each other, to know God, to know this world that we inhabit.

What if, when we wake in the morning, we call each other into the light? What if we beckon each other into a kind of living that says, you are good, and it is good to become visible, to become known, to be seen.

I think our days would fall into place a little differently.

I think our interactions with each other would be a little gentler.

I think the way we see ourselves would become a little clearer,

and maybe, just maybe, we’d finally stop running.

We’d embrace the light.

We’d lay ourselves bare at the dawn of the day, and carry the light of a benevolent world into our every encounter.

Mno waben, friends. 

Go now into the visible light.

 

 

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We sit together, one, together,

pressed into green chairs, shoulder to shoulder

with the glory and remembrance of sainthood carved into our hearts,

with cake on our laps and coffee steaming the air between.

We, the broken and undone,

We, the cherished and welcomed in.

We, the family.

And we bring to this windowed room our

thunderous laughter and our stone-heavy tears,

and we pour forth the nectar of our opened hearts and stilled souls.

And we speak of quiet Spirit and of leading Voice,

when it booms in our deepest places.

And I see that our shoes are all tied to our feet,

each of us in our shoes that have journeyed each single journey

to come here, to this mecca of community.

And we open our Book, whose pages

cover us and count us,

words that gather us in.

And it’s an hour, but our time here is forever,

for the Kingdom We Seek is not bound by time or secured by

our fingertips.

No.

It weaves itself through and between us, sewing us into

a tapestry meant for the world.

Hem us in, hem us in.

And we run to You in the beginning, each of us both prodigal son and brother of pride

embodied.

We come to You,

and gathered up in Your embraces,

we leave with the joy of sainthood sheltering us,

All is well, all is well.

 

Amen.