Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Dread of Advent

As December has approached, a time of year I have always loved, my heart has grown a little heavier. As I realized today that tomorrow is church, that tomorrow is a Sunday in December, it finally occurred to me. Day 1 of advent. Christmas countdown. That time of year when everyone talks about God in the form of a child, when we talk about waiting on the arrival of this little baby, when people read poetry about motherhood in an attempt to relate to what Mary may have felt. The time of year when I am told that to truly understand Christmas better, I need to focus on this concept of Advent. Of waiting. Of expecting. Of not rushing or wanting or striving.

The thing is, I feel like my whole year is lived in a quiet, but painful, advent. Of waiting and expecting. Of not having any control or ability to rush any of this. This year's Christmas season marks the 5 year mark since we started trying to have a baby. Five years ago it was exciting to think about waiting on a physical baby as we waited on the Christ child. That excitement has long since worn off. The rest of the year is one month after another with no results when it comes to that initial desire. With reading books about waiting better and faithfully desiring God and not focusing on this baby. Or finding articles and poetry and art that speaks to perseverance and hope. Of seeking to be content without another child. Of fending off questions and trying not to be annoyed when people try to attribute this particular wait with God's lesson for us or our own inability to learn something he has clearly been trying to teach us or being told for the 100th time that once we stop caring, then we will get pregnant or our adoption will come through. Yeah. Because all my hundreds of friends around me who have tons of kids didn't care about being pregnant. Clearly that's the trick. Manipulating God or anatomy or whatever into making this happen. Sounds like a good idea.

So when my husband asked me a few minutes ago if we were on for our usual plan for church tomorrow? My heart sank. My stomach began to churn. I began to wonder how many glowing pregnant women would totter down the aisle while the band plays "Away in a Manger" in the background and I try to look at the floor instead of envy their bumps. I began to wonder if our church here, in their desire to make and show videos on Sunday mornings, would come up with some artistic portrayal of motherhood and expectancy that I'll have to sit through. In short, I began to dread church. I began to search for legitimate ways to opt out of a gathering in which I normally find life and hope. I began to worry that I wouldn't be able to actually see God through all the God-infant imagery that will now bombard us for the next 25 days.

I hate that. I hate that this wait and the pain within it has robbed me of my favorite season in the church. I hate that I cannot overcome my sadness and my longing and just be able to fully enjoy the advent season. I hate knowing that come Christmas morning when my son places the baby Jesus in our manger scene at home, my heart will also pang with the knowledge that while that manger is full and that should be enough for me, our crib is still empty and I am still waiting.

And to be honest? I don't really know what to do next. People tell you to not think about it, to find other outlets, to pursue contentedness. To just seek God and not what he can give me. But how do you seek God well in a season where every avenue is reminding you to seek Him in the form of a baby, a form that only highlights your own desire for that good and beautiful gift of children? How do you do that well? Most of the year I can conveniently ignore the Christmas story and focus on the Easter one. But advent? Advent feels like one more big reminder that while I can wait on the Christ-child, while I can cultivate my experience of expectancy of what God can do, at the end of the day our long, physical wait still goes on.

And I am exhausted. I wish I could say I'll definitely push through and go to church anyway tomorrow. I don't know. I wish I had some neat package with a lovely Christmas bow that would tie up these thoughts. But much like advent itself, much like all the uncertainty we like to talk about as we celebrate it, all the fears Mary and Joseph must have felt, all the confusion about their future, this post doesn't have a neat ending. I will wake up tomorrow. Maybe I will go to church or maybe I will stay home and take a very long, cold jog with Tim Keller on my ipod. Most of the day I suspect I will be happy and enjoy my family and look forward to class on Monday morning. I will find joys in the quiet moments of the day. I may even listen to Christmas music. Most likely, though, I will not sit around and ponder the birth of Jesus. And I suspect God is ok with that right now.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A Little Perspective

Earlier this week I stumbled through a video of Chinese orphans answering questions about adoption and what they hoped for in a family, if they ever get one. Later that day, I cried through a homemade video of a dad talking to his three young babies who had just passed away that morning. The internet is awful in a lot of ways, but you know what I've finally realized? It IS good for a little perspective.

We live in an overly dramatic and self-centered culture. One night of watching reality television illustrates only too well the art of overreaction, self-pity, and self-focus that we are being cultivated to understand as the normal, default way of functioning today. Look at my problems. Listen to what so-and-so had the nerve to say to me. It's all about me, after all. Let me be as nasty as I want to be without repercussions.

For years, my knee-jerk reaction to any tendency toward the dramatic was stoicism. Don't tell, even if asked. Smile when it hurts. Be thankful in all things. Never let 'em see you cry or, better yet, don't cry at all. The biggest insult I could have ever received would have been to be termed a "drama queen." Call me nerd, dork, whatever. (And, to be quite honest, many people did.) But as long as I was emotionally in control, I was golden. Responsible. Dependable. Solid.

These last five years have made me seriously doubt the merits of this particular overcompensation. I have delved into the world of counseling, I have used my "feelings" worksheet and attempted to articulate when things have been hard and when they've been good. I have had my own dramatic moments, where it felt too hard to hope anymore or too painful to understand what greater good might have been going on or bigger perspective there was to be gained.

A friend of mine shared a startling statistic: a high percentage of people dealing with infertility are encumbered by the same levels of depression as very ill cancer patients. This seemed crazy to me. I have never had cancer nor even been close to someone who has but have had dear friends lose parents to this horrible disease. I found the comparison terrifying and freeing all at once. Its normal to be sad, even depressed over this at times. This, too, is loss in our lives that needs grieving.

At the same time, that part of me who shies away from the emotional clings to the need for perspective here. Confession time: on my darkest days of frustration I will watch Band of Brothers, Saving Private Ryan or some documentary on human slavery or poverty or adpotion that significantly widens my scope of human suffering. I need to. A friend recently told me she thinks it's fine that I do that but that it's ok to be sad, too. Not to diminish my own pain. And she's right. 

The thing is that sadness without perspective tends to lead me, at least, to self-pity. I don't watch those movies or online videos to erase my pain but to remind myself that in the grand scheme of life pain is everywhere. And yes, much of it is far more intolerable or unbelievable than anything I've had to endure in my incredibly privileged life. Keeping perspective helps prevents the sadness form insulating my world, makes my lens to those around me clear so I can see their pain, too, and reminds me that justice is actually an anomaly in today's world. That the forces of evil and brokennness are hungrily at work, snatching away babies, dreams, freedom and hope from people all over the globe. That my story is not singled out in an otherwise perfect world. This may seem obvious. But in a culture that tells me that it's ok to focus on myself all the time, I need this reminder. It enables me to keep on with much more humility, grace and hope than I would otherwise muster on my own. Maybe to some this reminder would cause despair or hopelessness, but the idea that I am a part of a humanity that is searching for hope in the midst of pain makes me deeply grateful for those beautiful moments of justice, the many gifts I have been given in this life, those days when hope is ever-present and birds are singing and I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that no matter how my story ends, I am not alone in it.

That, my friends, is perspective. None of this is about me, after all. Any suffering of my own is a drop in a much larger bucket. Any tendency to want to have a Jersey Shore kind of day and blame my problems on someone else is just a fruitless, selfish endeavor.

Suffering with perspective allows me to enter into the suffering of Jesus himself and further understand what he has done for me, into the suffering of friends and family and love them better, to not be indifferent to the suffering of the world. It teaches me what not to say to someone in times of grief and that, in fact, there is very little that needs to be said at all that can possibly be more meaningful than mourning quietly alongside someone. It shows me that the power of transparency and honesty is about a lot more than self-revelation and inner peace, that it's about giving others' suffering a voice and a space to grieve, too.

This morning I watched a video of a woman who was about to have a double mastectomy holding a dance party in the OR. I don't know her. I don't know what transformed a situation that was probably full of solemnity, fear and anger into a moment of audacious hope and laughter. This was a sweet and painful moment of perspective for me.

For today, a woman chose to dance in the face of suffering. And so I am going to get off my computer and turn on a little Michael Jackson and have myself a dance party, too. I am going to laugh and cry and keep hoping. Life is short, after all. I'd rather be dancing than sighing.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

A Party in a Galaxy Far, Far Away

Someone should warn you when you are pregnant with a boy: be prepared to watch Star Wars, hear about Star Wars, playact Star Wars, construct Star Wars Legos, dress up like Star Wars characters and, of course, be prepared to host a killer Star Wars party. I think there has been some unexplainable and universal change to the boy genome that makes it physically impossible for them to resist the allure of this massive commercial dynasty. My son, despite my own lukewarm feelings about said film, is obsessed and hasn't even actually seen all the movies. It doesn't matter. 2 minutes of a Youtube clip of Han Solo careening through the universe and they are all hooked.

When we were moving to Wisconsin this summer my sweet boy was concerned that he wouldn't be able to have a Star Wars party this fall. "What if I don't have any friends by then?" Well, that'll break any parent's heart. After reassuring him of that distinct impossibility and promising him all the same that we would actually fly back to NC for his birthday if it ended up true, we moved forward to plan a party. Yes, he has been talking about this since approximately five minutes after his lego party last year ended. So yes, it was going to happen.

I geared up my creative juices, scoured the internet for good ideas and here you go. One party in a galaxy far, far away.

What good jedi festivity would be complete without a lightsaber? The kids loved making their own and then trying to use the "force" to keep balloons afloat. Of course, that particularly activity lasted all of 2 minutes before devolving into an all out light saber battle. Really easy project with big returns.

I'm guessing this is the last year that pinning something on anything will hold much appeal for my boy, but he was excited for this one. What's better than Yoda overseeing the festivities? Pinning a lightsaber on him.

It's always fun to put together a clue hunt for these kids. They had to follow a set of riddles around the house and find bags full of legos. At the end they raced to put together small star wars sets. This was a total hit!

Apparently lego-themed food is a big deal. The internet had tons of suggestions and here's what we made! I take just about zero credit for these ideas, just their execution.

Nothing fancy, just some bags with fun Jedi labels filled with some little treats. The kids went home with a bag and their light saber to continue to have fun.

There you go. Nothing too pinterest-worthy, but I have a happy little jedi who spent his 7th birthday with new friends and lots of laughter. Can't ask for more than that. Except, in his eyes, for Star Wars to be real.