I was trying to get out of the house, assembling the many items I cart around, thinking I can accomplish much more in 24 hours than is humanly possible. The shawl I wore caught the corner of the box. The whole thing came crashing down. This was at the top of the stairs. I loaded everything back into the box, in no order whatsoever. Time was getting away. However, I paused to take this representative picture. "This is what my life looks like now."
When approaching the bottom of the stairs to get to the garage, I dropped the box, stumbling on the welcome mat. "Is there something I need to welcome that I haven't yet?" I wondered. I refused to note that question with a picture. I loaded the box into the car, putting it to rights was impossible at this point, I needed to get to my Mom's to celebrate my parents' 63rd Wedding Anniversary. This is the first year my Mom celebrates without my Dad. Once in the car, unbelievably, the basket of cards flipped off the backseat and scattered all over the floor board. By now, you're wondering if the box of cards is cursed or something...I wondered too!
Rather than taking a picture, I asked, "What am I dropping in my life to which I need to pay attention?" That box of cards holds the many greetings, condolences, messages of grief I have received since my Dad's death in August. My intention is to respond to each one. I've not yet been successful. Many of the cards remain unopened. I apologize. The chaos of the box and its triple spill is indicative of inner turmoil and chaotic, complicated feelings of sadness as well as deep joy. Sadness that I can't hear my Dad's distinctive voice with the Zimbabwean lilt, except in my mind's ear. I am unable to see him throw his head back with the flash of gold fillings in the back of his mouth and see his wide smile, except in my mind's eye. Deep joy fills me at his return to the God who made him. He is his complete, vibrant self. This year has been so much. Too much.
Though spontaneity is a quality I value, though I sometimes thrive on the chaos of relationships, church life and busy-ness, I also crave order. Simple order. Beautiful order. The order of a petaled bright sunflower. The clarity and order of a devotional walk into and out of a labyrinth. In the throes of sadness and grief, or any strong, challenging emotion, there is a tendency to feel as if we are that emotion. We get overwhelmed. A friend reminded me that when I am feeling so deeply my Dad's absence, I am not the emotion of sadness. In other words, sadness is not my whole identity. I have feelings, like everyone else does. Feelings come and go. My feelings are not the whole of who I am. Neither are you the sum of one particular feeling. "No feeling is final," writes the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. Rather than condemning or judging our feelings with negative self-talk, this same friend sent me this chart...I feel sad. I will get through this. This phrase is much more kind than the nagging things I say to myself, that I would NEVER say to someone else in the midst of grief. "Shouldn't I be over this by now? How come I still feel sad? I should just be able to get over this!"
Advent and Christmas are full of both order and chaos. The chaos of humanity is balanced with the order of God's deep intention for the world through Jesus' pending birth. You may have a false, unrealistic expectation of yourself to feel "peaceful," "joyous," "loving." In fact, you might guilt yourself, because you don't feel the way you're "supposed" to feel at "the most wonderful time of the year." Don't load yourself with guilt, blame or shame like the Grinch steals the Who's Christmas from Whoville. Those feelings aren't the giant bag on your back that you have to haul around or hide. Let yourself feel what you feel and then move forward. Embedded into our God-ordered design is the capacity to "feel all the feels" and let them pass.
Grace and Peace,