My mother’s favorite Christmas carol is “Joy to the World”. Joy to the world! The Lord has come! This is one of few triumphant traditional Christmas hymns. Most of them are songs of hope and expectation, but this one…oh, this one! This is a song of celebration! Of adulation of God’s plan accomplished, of the banishment of sorrow, and the raining down of blessing. It is a song of literal joy, both in its tone and in its directive.
As Advent comes to a close this week with the beginning of Christmas, let’s allow ourselves some joy. In the midst of all that must still be done, let’s pause and breathe and let joy glow within us, no matter what form it takes.
As I put my daughter to sleep recently, I sat on the edge of her bed and, before I could sing her a lullaby, my mind cast itself back into my childhood Christmases — the concerts, the programs, the recitations — and, automatically, a familiar childhood voice began to remind me of just what Christmas is all about: “And there were, in the same country, shepherds abiding in the fields…” As a child, I memorized this section of Luke 2 through Linus’s recitation in A Charlie Brown Christmas. Charlie Brown, frustrated by his seeming failure at Christmas, demands to know just what Christmas was all about, and so Linus tells him. As I recalled his smile at “I bring you tidings of great joy…a Savior which is Christ the Lord”, I felt my heart swell with that self-same joy. And I found myself wanting to linger there in that silence, in what Shakespeare calls the “perfectest herald of joy”.
As we embark upon the beginning of Christmas week and celebrate the work commenced by Christ’s birth, in all the hustle and bustle, let us not lose sight of the joy — both silent and exultant — that filled that corner of the world and Heaven on that night. If we allow it, it can overflow our hearts today. Let Heaven and nature sing: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill towards men.
As you move into Christmas, dear Friends, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).
It has felt as though my voice has gone quiet, that there is just heavy silence where my soul is. Heavy, exhausted silence. Many often wonder at the silence of God. I wonder at my own silence. I am on auto-pilot. When I respond enthusiastically in a conversation or to a request, part of me is standing back, staring in awe and often shock at this person who is just continuing on with life. Or at least it’s the part of me that best knows, ostensibly, how to play this game called life. The other part of me, though, what feels like most of me, is silent.
I want to speak. I want to write. I want to have conversation. I want to laugh. I want to be silly. I miss all these things, deeply and dearly. Yet I struggle. When I do engage in them, except with my closest of people, I feel that emotional separation again. As though I’m sending a social golem out with my voice while the real me stays back in silence.
I know my voice is still here. I hear it every day. I hear it in the words I say and the encouragements that I give to my students. I hear it in my FB and IG posts and in my message to friends to check up on them, I hear it in the cards and letters that I tuck into the mailbox. Using my voice for others feels like the easy job, a performance and practice that I know well enough to make it muscle-memory, strange as that might sound. Using it myself, for what I love, for what I want…that feels infinitely harder.
How do I coax my voice back out? Not just for others but for myself? I want to get back to using my voice for me, too. Not just for God and for others, but also for myself. To ask for what I need, say what I want, speak truth without fear.
My voice can be a thing of beauty, of power, of gentleness, and abject love and grace. I want to find it and the courage to use it again. Not just for others but also for myself. Because I deserve all that, too.
How do I do that again? Am I doing it right now? I honestly don’t know. But I am going to try.
I always despair of the world returning to “normal” after Christmas time. I just love that, for a while, it seems as though beauty and magic are evident to all. It is unavoidable for a while, glowing on every street corner, in the stores, neighborhood, and from many homes, whether or not they are decorated on the outside. It feels easier to believe in the wondrous and in people’s ability to be awed by the world around them during the holidays. And, yes, I do mean all of them: Christmas, Hannukah, Solstice, Yule, Kwanzaa, etc. They all have to do with light, miracles, better things; and, for a little while, hope feels tangible.
The work of Christmas feels harder when the lights are dimmed and decorations put away for another year. However, I know that the work of Christmas continues, nevertheless. That work of bringing light and love, encouragement and edification to the world around me, that is my purpose. However, I find that I have felt disconnected from that purpose in a way recently. I feel it as I struggle with time and space for reflection, with late nights in the blue light of my computer screen as I grade, the days that fill with needs and responsibilities and small metaphorical fires to be put out. I find myself struggling for connection. Not just connection outward to others but also inward to my own gifts and ministries, namely words and writing. I miss it. I want that connection back. I want to think deeply about the things I hear, read, and experience, contemplating their place and effect on my life—what it is and what it shall be.
I am feeling tugs and pulls on my heart to even newer chapters within this new course of our life. It’s life-giving and terrifying. But I have been praying for God to prepare me for whatever He has next for me.
I want to reconnect. I do not know how much easier it will be this year than last, but I want to try. I want to get back to that place where I am tapped in, to myself, to God, to my purpose in this world. Because there is still more out there for me: to learn, to give, to be, and to do. There is still more for you, too. And I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that the world needs the more we can connect to and become.
I am finishing my coffee before my TO DO list for the day begins and I start prepping for my first holiday season in our new home. I have the food to cook for my little family tomorrow as we tamp down our Thanksgiving celebrations. But now comes the tidying, the cleaning, the preparing, and, after tomorrow, the decorating. I still do not have all the Christmas decorations that I could desire but I know that such stockpiles take time, as I am rebuilding them from scratch since the move.
It feels odd to be preparing to dress up a new house for the first time in twelve years. In our old little cottage–which, by the way, we signed the final sale paperwork for last night (big feels!)–I knew where all my decorations went. I knew how I liked things set up and where things had to go in my living room configuration. Nothing was huge or elaborate, but they were there, a constant reminder of stability. Our tree with its silver, blue, and white ornaments, spattered with sentimental ones, glowed in the living room, crowed with its silver star that Ben and Elizabeth put on together every year. It must be the absolute last thing on the tree. I had the same wreath with its silver and white ribbons and flowers for fourteen years. It had had multiple birds’ nests built into it in early springs and then cleaned out once the babies and parents had vacated. The little potted pre-lit tree (that had been our family Christmas tree while we had a cat and small baby) sat faithfully on the front porch, decorated with flowers, leaves, Easter eggs, etc., throughout the differing seasons by myself and my daughter. The silver stockings hung on their snowflake hangers from the dvd shelf, under the compilation frame of family photos and frame by fir branches with silver poinsettas. The nativity scene that my Erin brought back for me from Malawi was set up on the bookshelf, the camel I found at Levi Coffin Days (an almost-perfect match) tucked in amongst the wise men to complete the set.
This year, I will need to figure out just how things will fit in this new house with its new rooms and spaces. I know where the tree is going, and we have a “glowy star” this year, per my daughter’s request and choosing. I haven’t bought any stockings or hangers for the mantlepiece yet (I have a real actual mantlepiece, you guys!), though truly the only one whose stocking gets stuffed any more is my daughter. She has her new one for her door already picked out. Harry Potter, of course.
So this will be a year of starting new in more ways than one. I am trying not to think about not having “enough” to decorate my house this year. What I really want is for my home to be warm, welcoming, and soothing because this will be a holiday season that is already missing some very important people. So I want my home to be a place of uplifting, hygge, and comfort for those hard moments. I want that Christmas-y feeling. Not to avoid the hard moments necessarily but to help them perhaps be not quite so heavy.
I’m trying, dear ones, I really am. But Target is calling my name…
There are days when I look in the mirror and I am troubled by what I see, or, rather, by what I feel at what I see. My skin is the color of Cadbury’s milk chocolate where the sun hits it regularly; the skin hidden under my clothing is more caramel, though it looks like cafe au lait next to my arm. My daughter, when she was little, would pretend that I was chocolate and she was going to gobble me up. It has hit home for me, though–harder in recent years–that I have never felt “black enough”.
When I was little, I was teased by kids at school for my celebrity crushes: boys like Jonathan Taylor Thomas (“Home Improvement”) and Nick Carter (Backstreet Boys). I was told that I wished I were white, the idea voiced for me as though it were a pronouncement handed down from the mount. I was thin as a rail growing up; I didn’t have a body built for curves until almost 30 years later. I have been relaxing my hair since I was twelve and have worn it this way for now twice as long as I had it natural. I like it, but, sometimes, I can keenly feel the lack of my “blackness” because I don’t proudly wear my hair natural and free or intricately, traditionally, or boldly styled. In my first classroom as a full-time teacher, I had several black students who were, as I overheard, quite excited to have a black teacher. The disappointment and even confusion on their face when I opened my mouth and started speaking, was starkly visible to me even though they may not have realized it. I can only hope it didn’t stick.
When “Black Panther” first came out, I scrolled through the joyous pictures of people attending screenings and premiers in all their traditional African finery. It was amazing and beautiful and triumphant. But, somewhere in the midst of it all, I beheld their glory and felt the worm in my heart that whispered, “This is not for me. I have no place here.”
I am a brown-skinned, American-born, full-blooded Caribbean woman from a melting-pot island where I never felt black enough for many of the people around me. Now I live in a place that demands the necessary acknowledgement that black lives matter. (Spoiler alert: we do!) But, again, that worm in the apple in there:
“None of this is for me, or maybe I am not for it. I’m not black enough for this to be for me.”
My curves don’t shine like midnight or my skin glow like dawn. My hair doesn’t surround me in a crown of ombre curls or fall like watered black silk over my shoulders. I haven’t had to power through discrimination and prejudice in my higher education or workplace world (at least not consciously or overtly) in order to be successful. I have lived the most privileged of lives of color, for which I am immensely grateful. In other words, however, I haven’t had to fight for every inch like so many have been forced to do.
There are days when I half-wish that I had no color to feel less than, days that I just don’t feel black enough for any of this black girl magic to belong to me.
But then my daughter says, upon hearing the book Brown Boy Joy read on Netflix’s Bookmarks series, “I wish there was a brown girl joy.”
And so I put my queen-mom heels on and trot out Black Girl Magic Sprinkles (Chaunetta Anderson and Trinity L. Anderson), Honeysmoke (Monique Fields), and Sulwe (Lupita Nyong’o) for my little mixed beauty. My little girl who calls her summery skin “tan”. My little girl who needs to know that all the magic is hers, all the dreams are hers for the taking. She wants to build robots and go to Mars. I want her to build the robots and rockets that will go and then accompany them to Mars.
I want my girl to work and strive and do her best and achieve all the amazing dreams she has. I am doing my best to teach her openness and love, that hard work is nothing to be feared, and that there is always something to be learned, ways in which we can be better. As Princess Shuri (the officially most brilliant mind in the Marvel Cinematic Universe) admonished her kingly brother T’Challa, “How many times do I have to teach you? Just because something works, that does not mean it cannot be improved.”
I want my daughter to tap into her magic every day, to feel it in every way! I will nurture and defend her black girl magic and her right to it until my dying breath.
I may not feel black enough for my own magic, but I damn sure have enough for my daughter and any other black, brown, or mixed kiddo who may walk through my door. I will fight tooth and nail for their magic even though and while I may be iffy about my own. It’s complicated and called being human, I guess.
My head ached and my stomach roiled as I looked over the papers the other night: the lease for what we had been dearly hoping would become our new home. This was the next step in a new chapter for our little family, and I felt as though all my sense and surety had fled and failed me. All my certainty seemed to wobble underneath me, all that I was sure of before lost in a haze of “I don’t know,” and “Is this right?”
During a recent bedtime, our daughter told us that she believed God had told her that the house (over whose lease I was now laboring) was perfect for us. Honestly, we all thought so and had prayed and hoped deeply that our application might be approved. Then it was and now there I sat, suddenly questioning the last two weeks of my life and every decision made therein. It has been twelve years since we rented a home; was this lease fair? Where would the extra money come from for all this if something went wrong? What if no schools accepted my job applications? Was this indeed the next right thing, the right choice for our family? Now, we do believe that our little girl did indeed hear God’s voice in her heart, that she did hear Him answer her silent question of a new home. Yet, here I was: feeling sick to my stomach with uncertainty.
Needing a minute to clear my head, I sat down with a box of encouragement cards that a friend had given me, and this is the one I pulled out of the stack:
I had made an old choice, and I had chosen wrongly. I had chosen an old frenemy: fear. It has stood between me and the new many times before, and I have missed much through its uncertainty. And, though I believe in this next chapter for our family, I had chosen fear again and it had made itself uncomfortable in my belly.
I need to choose again.
I want to choose again.
I will choose again.
This time, I choose love.
When I say that, I do not necessarily mean that I am choosing love for others, though that is always a good (and a God) thing. What I mean by choosing love is that I am choosing God’s love for me. His love which means He has a plan for me, a plan for my good and to prosper my future. I do not want to choose fear and let it paralyze me again. I want to choose and believe in God’s love for me, no matter how nervous I may feel about the big changes coming our way. I want to continually choose God’s love for me and have faith that He will open the necessary doors and that all will work out.
One thing is for absolutely certain: God has never failed me yet. I choose to believe that He will not start now.
I began this post three times over and, each time, it just wasn’t right. It wasn’t what I wanted to say. To be honest, I am not sure of just what I want to say.
Mother’s Day is not usually a relaxed, pampered day but, rather, a day of busyness for me. It is a day spent making sure that all the moms in my life feel special, as that is very important to me. Special days usually fall under the purview of mothers.
Moms, Aunts, Grandmas: you have been called above and beyond during this crisis. Overhauling your lives and bidding goodbye to you and your families’ old normal to find a balance in the new, and you have absolutely smashed those challenges, if I do say so myself. You have rearranged houses and schedules, developed new abilities, reignited old ones, and extended present ones. You have enforced rules and comforted dear ones in the midst of all this hard and uncertainty. You have literally accomplished miracles.
Today, I celebrate you, Moms. I celebrate your gentleness and strength. I see your weariness, your overwhelm, stress, and tears. I honor your late nights, though the next day will undoubtedly be busy, because those late-night hours are the only ones you get to yourselves. I celebrate all that you are.
Aunts and Grandmas, I see your missing of your nieces and nephews, grown children and grandchildren. I feel your desire to hold them close and hug them tight. I see your conversations over the phone, from the ends of driveways and between cars and over Zoom and Facetime. I honor your desire to keep your dear ones safe.
Someday soon we will be together again. We will be able to share all the hugs, visits, lunches, play-dates, girls’ nights, and vacations again. We are separate but still together, and you are loved beyond measure. Thank you for everything that you do, all day and every day. I appreciate you, love you, and wish you a long, deep nap or, at least, a quiet hour all by yourself.
Here we are, at the end of another month. My birthday (and maybe yours, too) has come and gone in this strange time of social distancing and sheltering-in-place. It was a lovely one despite the limitations on what actually could be done to celebrate. I received some beautiful phone calls and video chats from beloved friends and family, and one friend even sent me a Disney World firework show. It was a lovely birthday altogether. “Fancy” take-out dinner, cake, and a $0.99 movie with my little family.
Doesn’t it feel odd, what we have learned to live with over the past month or so? The adjustments and adaptations we have made in order to live life in this new normal? The very way we interact as human beings has changed, and we have come to cling to those changes as, in most cases, they are all that we can do.
Tuesday was THE day. Grocery Day! All three of us happened to be out that morning, a deviation from our normal routine as one of the cars has to be taken in for servicing. So, donned in our new sweetly-made masks, mine covered in its lovely book pattern (fitting, no?), we ventured into the grocery store, my husband and daughter heading off to the electronics and toy section while I scurried about the grocery and pharmacy aisles with my list. As I moved about, I found myself in an absolute fit of irritation that people were clustering close together and whatnot in the aisles and walkways when I was studiously trying to avoid it. Granted, as an introvert, I tend to studiously avoid people in the grocery store as a matter of practice, but this irritation felt far more urgent, more worrisome. It is this worrisome urgency that sent me scurrying off as though I were actively running away from people. However, at the same time, I have come to accept that worried irritation as a part of my mental process through all this. Especially when I see more and more people chaffing at the restrictions and states beginning to re-open and allow the distance between people to lessen or even close. I am not okay with this, and I am unsure as to how others can be.
Do I miss my students? Yes. Do I miss being able to go out when I feel the want or need? Yes. Do I wish my daughter could socialize and play with her friends and other children? Yes. But I am not prepared to believe that this is over yet. I am not prepared to put my family and those of others at risk by throwing our caution and adjustments away. I am not, and I am urgently irritated at people who are.
Where is your sense of community protection or (at least) self-preservation, people? Do I understand the need to work and for income? Absolutely. But I also acknowledge that we still do not know enough about this virus, its staying power, resurgence, etc. I am not prepared to take that chance, not yet.
Is it hard to be home all the time? Absolutely. Is my daughter driving me nuts? Undoubtedly. Do we struggle to find and share space in our little home? All the time (but especially when my daughter refuses to go upstairs to the two rooms that are all hers and leave me to the peace of the living room). But, above all other things, WE ARE STILL HERE. We are still together. We are still here. And so are you.
We are still here, Dear Ones. Doing what we can. Separate but together. Even as things might begin to change again, let’s continue to stay here and do what we can, for the good of ourselves and others.
It has felt good getting my body back into a habit of exercising each morning before beginning my day. I have now gotten back to the point where I feel off without it, which is a routine that I have honestly missed quite a bit. But my daily exercise and extra workouts are not the reason I am feeling thinner lately. No, the “thinner” I am feeling is an emotional and mental thinness.
At the end of his time as a Ring-bearer, the hobbit Bilbo Baggins described himself as feeling “thin…like butter scraped over too much bread”. It was a feeling of not having enough of himself anymore for life, for…anything, really. It has been over a month at home, closeted with husband and daughter, and it feels as though it gets a bit harder with each week, in which I am sure I am not alone. Rest is, ironically, proving hard to come by, and I have felt my optimism flag. Anxiety is manifesting as weariness, irritability, and overwhelm; some days, it is hard for me to recognize myself as myself. I feel poured out…worn thin.
I miss me. This thought came as a shock even as I wrote the words. I do. I miss me. I miss believing the optimism and encouragement that I pour out for others. I know it is true, but I miss believing it as much for myself as I do for other people. The tap is always on, always running, always pouring out. And yet…it feels as though if I turn it off, the very foundations of my life will shudder.
Earlier this week, my daughter’s teacher posted a very sweet permission for us parents not to be the perfect teachers to our children during this time. Encouraging us to tend to our little ones’ hearts and souls and to worry less about their academic achievements. As a teacher myself, I admit that I am having the hardest time managing my 1st grader’s Reading, Math, and Science lessons along with everything I am doing for my own 8th grade classes and students. And I have felt very much thinner and the less for that this week especially.
I have felt less for sleeping in a bit in the mornings and then not being able to fit in my workout and all of kiddo’s schoolwork before my class, office hours, or a meeting start. Less for not managing my day down to the minute to accommodate everything and taking a luxury (rest) that I apparently cannot afford. Thinner.
I am not God. Allow me to say that again, for my own benefit. I am not God. And yet I am holding on to everything so very tightly, you’d believe that I must have some cosmic responsibility for everything that is happening. But I don’t, nor do I want to.
I know what I WANT.
I WANT to spend meaningful time with my daughter that doesn’t involve some kind of fight or tantrum or fit.
I WANT to rest, to allow myself to take time for quiet, stillness. I WANT to tell my family to take care of themselves for a while and engage in some hygge without guilt.
I WANT to delve into my relationship with God, to grow and deepen in my faith during this time.
I WANT to read, to engage my imagination and intelligence, to tumble headlong into stories and wisdom and stimulating ideas.
What I AM is flustered, rushed, overworked.
What I AM is irritable and overwhelmed almost from the moment my feet hit the floor in the morning.
What I AM is poured out and depleted but with no idea of just how to say that (though I guess I just did).
What I NEED is soothing for which I do not have to work.
What I NEED is a break for which I do not feel guilty afterward.
What I NEED is to be filled up.
What I NEED is to be poured into, but we are all perhaps a bit short on that, aren’t we?
We are all in the midst of something that we do not know how to do. We are all in the midst of stress, weariness, worry, and even fear. You may be right here, too, Dear Reader, in this place of thinness, of emotional/mental scarcity. You may not have much to pour out today or this week. That is okay. If permission is what you need, then here I am to give it to you. From one “thin” person to another, it is okay. You are allowed to do just what you can.
If all you can handle with the kids is one subject lesson, then this teacher is giving you permission to let that be enough.
If all you can handle this Sunday is personal devotions and not a full-fledged Sunday School lesson with the family, then you have this pastor’s wife’s encouragement to stay in your bedroom with the door closed.
If you are home and to the point of wanting to defenestrate your dear ones, then this mom and wife begs you to take a walk (carefully, of course), a bath, shut the kids in the backyard, do something for yourself even if it is a “corrected” coffee in your bathroom at 11am.
If you are leaving the house every day to walk into an uncertain world, you absolutely have this human’s blessing to cry in your car.
We all need a place where our emotions are welcome, and yours are welcome here, Dear Readers. Always.
On Thursday, our state superintendent of education announced that schools will remain closed for the rest of the school year. There are other things that go along with that, of course, such as distance learning, plans, etc. But the big takeaway is that now students will not return to the school buildings OFFICIALLY. This is an abrupt and jarring ending for our kids. This is not the way the school year is supposed to go. Speaking as a parents and a teacher, while it is for the best and is the safest course of action, it feels like nothing less than the yanking away of hope.
Hope of being able to hug and play with their friends again. Hope of being able to suit up for their favorite sport. Hope of being able to sit in their favorite teacher’s classroom again. Hope of gathering in their friend-groups and being able to hold hands through all of this. Hope of preparing for their final dances, field trips, competitions, and performances and the year-long work that has led toward those ends. Hope of birthdays, band practices, pool parties, movie nights. Hope of being honored for their hard work at the end of the year, being able to stand up proudly and accept awards that they honestly worked their tails off for.
That hope is gone. There really is no other, nicer way to say it. That hope, in its original shape, is gone. And that is painful for our kids.
I was upset yesterday at the announcement, though the why is harder to articulate. I think part of it was the same upset that we all get when we have to deliver bad news, news that we know cannot be softened nor its truth mitigated. That feeling dragged on me and nagged at me all afternoon and evening. My anxiety was torn between curling up and crying the upset out and sitting down to work on ALL THE THINGS for distance learning, just so I had some modicum of control (I am a teacher after all). I felt like I had to do SOMETHING!
Finally, grabbing a quiet moment with both hands, I sat on the couch in my pjs and recorded a quick 1-min video on my phone before slapping it up on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook and emailing it out to my students. I just needed to reassure them, needed to tell them that it’s going to be okay. But, even more than that, I needed to tell them that I am sorry.
I am sorry that we won’t get to finish that book together in person. I am sorry that I won’t get to hear about how you’re moving to a new town over the summer, hug you goodbye, and tell you how proud I am of you and how much I enjoyed having you in my classroom. I am sorry that you will not get to dress up for the final dance of the year. I am sorry that we won’t get to do the Reading Counts party with games, the pool, and pizza. I am sorry that we won’t get to gush over the new Marvel movies that were slated for early May. I am sorry that I won’t be there to answer your knock and welcome you in to hide over lunch when you are having a bad day. I am sorry that we cannot be together. I am sorry that you cannot be together. I am sorry that you won’t get to play, perform, compete, and display your wonderful talents before everyone one more time this year. I am sorry that you won’t get to do all those amazing things you had planned this spring. I am sorry that this is how things have turned out.
It was only a minute or so but I wanted my students, my Heroes, to know that it matters. That their missing this portion of their lives right now matters. The missing matters! And that they are allowed to grieve it. It was important to them, important to their people, and losing those opportunities is significant. Even so, it will be okay.
And that is for you, too, Dear Ones. It will be okay. We will get through this. We will figure this out. And it is absolutely okay to feel disappointed, to grieve, and to cry through all of the getting through it, too. I am sorry, Dear ones. I am sorry for the disappointment, the distress, and the fracturing of hope. It will be okay, yes, but it is also hard. And it’s okay to feel that hard and hold on to hope at the same time. We are complex, we can do both things.
We are here. We are separated but still togther. We are still here. Hope is just taking on a new shape now, and we will learn to recognize it. We have not been deserted. We can still find hope, God, peace, and each other. It will be okay, Dear Ones. We will get there. Hold fast! Yibambe! It’s going to be okay.