All around us there is a rushing, frenetic, pulsing energy that seems to gather steam as the weekends roll by. In kid-time, 3.5 weeks out from Christmas is basically an eternity, still. In parent-time, however, it might as well be December 23rd.
Last night I cooked dinner in my beloved cast iron skillet, now the single pan I own. The other two were finally scrapped the week of Thanksgiving in a perhaps ill-considered fit of sadominimalism. (n. the practice of getting rid of something that is objectively awful, ill-fitting, or broken only to find that actually, you were kind of stuck with it until you replaced it.) I had to time things so that I could cook both the sweet potatoes and the salmon cakes (would you believe my pickiest eaters will gobble these happily, with ketchup? Cheap, too.) since both wanted a pan. I suppose I could have roasted the sweet potatoes in the oven, were the oven still performing its required domestic duties.
I told Dave later that evening that I felt very Ma Ingalls about the whole thing, cooking my dinner over an open fire electric range (thankfully still functional) in a single pan, taking 35 minutes to accomplish what could have been done in 10.
The thing is, we’re extraordinarily wealthy by almost any measure. We have a house with 4 toilets in it, which makes us literally royalty according to some cultural standards. I know this because last week I spent 20 minutes at a cell phone recycling kiosk recycling some of my growing collection of outdated smartphones for pennies on the dollar, and was forced to enjoy such mental stimulation flashing across the screen as “did you know more people in the world own a smartphone than have a toilet?” to which I had to confess, no. No I did not.
And the reason we’re having a tighter than usual end to the fiscal year in the first place is precisely because we purchased a toilet-encrusted castle of our very own, which is an extravagant privilege in and of itself. Broken ovens, leaking showers, rotted sheetrock, and all.
I’ve felt a little frustration watching the contents of my Amazon cart appreciate in value, waiting for a forthcoming payday to be liberated, but surprisingly, I think it’s helped keep the focus on Advent laser sharp. Removing the possibility of getting all the shopping done ahead of time or throwing in last minute impulse buys has been a freeing mental experience. And in lieu of expensive outings and dinners out, we’re having simpler, slower nights at home. Candles, books, board games, Netflix episodes. I don’t want to give the false impression it was all bottle service and velvet ropes in years past, but certainly, life is different now. Fuller in some ways, leaner in others.
The leanness has filled out Advent beautifully, though. Because I’m such a planner and anticipator by nature, it has been a hard stop for the cycle of buying, wrapping, hiding, preparing, impulsing, indulging, etc. etc. And I guess I’m grateful for that. Last night I slipped away at bedtime (St. David of Denver: coming soon to a liturgy near you in 2087) and ended up dropping by our parish’s perpetual adoration chapel for a half hour. The snow was just starting to flurry around the darkened windows but the chapel was warm and bathed in light, heated by the radiators and a half dozen or so of my fellow parishioners. As I was walking to my car I dug around for my keys and counted out the quarters in the bottom of my purse, collecting enough for a hot chocolate from the coffee shop on the way home. A luxury! And I don’t know that I would have seen it that way a year or two ago.
We’re incredibly blessed, even in tighter financial times. And praise God the times are tight because of blessings, not because of the burden of a job lost, a medical battle fought, or a relationship broken. But the tightness is showing me areas of real flab that were kind of perpetually being glossed over or taken for granted as “normal,” when in fact it isn’t normal to be so frantic, so caught up in planning and executing and getting it just right (and on time) that the holidays go off without a hitch.
We don’t do Christmas. Christmas comes to us, whether we’re ready or not. Whether we bought a single gift, or have to work an overnight shift, or can’t imagine facing the day alone without the person whose absence is a gaping hole in our heart. Whether our kids are getting 4 presents based on a rhyme we saw on Pinterest, or 42 because their grandparents all live out of state and have a Fisher Price addiction. Or no presents at all, but maybe an extra nice dinner with enough for everyone to have seconds, because that’s what’s realistic this year, and thank God there’s enough.
And maybe Christmas comes and there isn’t enough. Maybe it doesn’t wrap up poetically like a Dicken’s novel or a Hallmark movie, and there are still broken hearts and empty cupboards, or a pile of wrapping paper mounted to the ceiling but cold, cheerless revelers dissatisfied with their loot.
He comes to us at Christmas. Whether we are ready to receive Him or not. Whether we’re open or not. Whether we’re tired or busy or angry or broken or deaf to His newborn cries. He comes. And for the next 3 and a half weeks, I can choose to focus on that imminent deadline and continually redirect my distractible nature to the reality of the season. He is coming. Gifts are great and giving is beautiful, but gifts are periphery to the bigger event at hand: He is coming. I forgot to buy something for my son’s teacher and I need a Starbucks gift card. He is coming. We haven’t bought a tree yet. He is coming. I haven’t been to Confession in X months. He is coming. We can’t swing the plane tickets to visit X in X. He is coming.
There is still time to prepare. There is time to do what is essential. And when the essentials are covered, the peripheral seems to fall more gracefully into place. I have to constantly remind myself of this. That my sweet, round-faced children will neither know nor care (thankfully, still so true at tender ages) whether they get the hottest new toys or have an impeccably decorated house to relax in wearing coordinating Christmas outfits. They squealed with delight over their Dollar Tree ornaments and the candy canes they found in their shoes yesterday morning. They fight over who gets to light the advent candle every night at dinnertime. It is enough. It is enough. It is more than enough.
And if I can present to them a well-prepared and spiritually nourished mother come Christmas morning, how much more powerful will their experience of the deep, true meaning of Christmas be?
But, you know, no pressure.
(Also, let this be a lesson to us all to temper our KonMari-ing to a reasonable pace, lest you too end up with salmon-scented sweet potatoes.)