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Thursday, December 26, 2013

How the Preparation for an Event Adds to its Joy

Tonight, I've thought a lot about the similarities between Christmas Day and a wedding day. In preparing for Christmas each year, so much planning goes into the decorations, the baking, the meals, the presents, Christmas morning, and navigating commitments. For weeks, we focus on and work towards one day. That one day means a few hours filled with family. An hour at a Christmas service. Food eaten in moments. Gifts ripped open in seconds. Weeks of planning dissolve quickly. But they're moments of memories. Experiences tattooed on our minds that never leave us.

As a child, the weeks of December meant an overwhelming excitement as each day crept. As a grad student, going home for Christmas meant excising myself from all of the new and challenging and forward-focus to settling into the warmth of tradition and familiarity. As a young parent, it meant experiencing the wonder and magic of the holiday again. 

Of course, above all, Christmas is important because of its celebration of the birth of Jesus. Many complain of its commercialization, and, I agree, it's beyond crazy. But regardless of the creepy, blow-up, arm-waving Santas, most people know about the origin of the Christmas holiday. Understand that its roots are deeper than mistletoe and stockings. 

After Jamie proposed to me, I spent seven months planning our wedding. We decided on a venue, a photographer, a videographer, my dress, the menu, the goodie bags, the band for the reception...everything down to the flowers on each table. But those seven months weren't a burden. Every moment spent planning for a four-hour celebration only intensified the experience. If I'd passed the baton to someone else and said, "Plan my wedding. I'll simply show up," the night wouldn't have meant as much. To know that each thought put into making it special for not only Jamie and I, but every one we love, made those few, fleeting hours more special.

Christmas is the same. The few hours go quickly, but the weeks leading up to it create a mind-set and experience that transform us and create lasting memories. In December, we sit in anticipation  of the holidays. We hum and smile at strangers. We glean the joy and human connection that oftentimes lies dormant. 

 We find joy in both the journey and the destination. We savor the preparation as much as the few hours of the day. Both bring happiness and create memories that last a lifetime. But in feeling the exhale in the after, let's remember that it doesn't end with the experience. The events are simply a gateway to a life committed. A reminder to look outward instead of inward. To put others before ourselves.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Grace and Perspective

Addison Roads', "Grace," is a beautiful song about perspective and the catalyst grace serves to move you forward. The lyrics poetically portray the juxtaposition experienced when we see something from our past. In the song, it's the home the songwriter grew up in. For me, it's more auditory than visual. Over the past few weeks, I've heard "Merry Christmas, Darling" by the Carpenters on the radio. My mind always fractures. Part of me is back in 1978. It's Christmas morning. The house smells of ham and cookies and cinnamon. My mom is in the kitchen getting ready for our entire extended family while my brothers and I play with the goodies left by Santa.

The other part of me smarts at the pain of my Mom's death in August. When I was in my 20's and heard "Merry Christmas, Darling," it made me smile. Reminded me that I would soon be home with my family for the holidays. Now, it's a painful reminder of all the Christmases my Mom lost to her dementia and will never experience. Christmas mornings filled with children's laughter as they open their gifts. Stories and smiles over coffee. The lazy comfort of simply being together with no where to go and nothing to do.

In the past few months as I've worked through the conflicting  emotions of my Mom's death--sadness, relief that she's at peace, joy at knowing she's finally home--it feels as though things have moved so quickly. Like I'm on one of those moving sidewalks in the airport. She was sick for so long and now she's gone. The piece of me that desperately clung to her memory as she devolved into her disease let go. Because she won't get sicker. I won't wake up everyday waiting to hear if today was the day. Knowing she is at peace makes me at peace. But after fifteen years of losing a bit of her every day, the suddenness of her death feels like an abrupt ending. Like a novel you've been reading that just stops. The road you've been racing down just ends. It causes a kind of disorientation. When such a large part of your emotional every day is gone, the void feels like both a gift and an emptiness.

So there is Grace. Webster's has two definitions. The first defines it simply as a way of moving that is smooth. The second defines it as unmerited divine assistance given to people for their regeneration. To me, the two definitions aren't independent, but extensions of one another. Getting through tough times in a way that actually moves you forward and does so in a fluid way requires divine assistance. My family has experienced much pain. The loss of my Mom, the loss of my brother, the loss of my daughter. Oftentimes, crossing the bridge from today to tomorrow seems daunting. But I will do it. Because of Grace. I will merge my fractured mind and move forward embracing every memory and everyday.