Thursday, December 22, 2016

Calling Time Out

Do you remember?

I do.

With Christmas only a few days away, I’ve been thinking back to sticky summer days filled with city streets and skinned knees.

If you grew up in the era of playing hide-and-go-seek in the streets until it grew dark enough to catch lightning bugs in old mayonnaise jars with a couple of holes poked in the lid, you will remember the power of calling “time out.” Whenever you needed a moment to tie your shoe or catch your breath or find out why your parents were calling your name, all you had to do was put your hands together in a “T” and shout, “Time out!”

By taking these simple steps, you invoked the mystical power of the “time-out.” Time instantly froze for you. Within its protective cover, you could take as much time as you needed to regroup. Everyone respected it. No one asked why you needed it, and no one kicked you out of the game for taking it. Unless you blatantly abused the privilege by repeatedly using “time-outs” to get out of being tagged “it,” your friends would not question your decision. In most cases, a “time-out” was honored by one and all, no questions asked.

Calling “time-out” worked great when we were 10.

These days, not so much.

It seems that everyone has forgotten about the power of a “time-out.” It has become a lost art, a mythical legend of old. Like unicorns and fairies and elves.

We’ve outgrown “time-outs” like we’ve outgrown so many other things that used to color our days with wonder and joy. It makes me wonder why any of us bothered to grow up at all.

We were so much wiser when we were 10.

I need those “time-outs” more now than ever, yet I feel too grown up to take one. I have this nagging fear that all of my old childhood friends, who wouldn’t have batted an eye at my calling “time out” on the streets of my old neighborhood, would only gasp and whisper among themselves if I were to admit I needed a break from the hectic pace of the game we are all rushing around so frantically to play.

But I don’t think I have anything to worry about.

I think most of us would be relieved to discover “time-outs” actually still exist, especially in these last crazy days before Christmas.

So here goes nothing.

“Time Out!”

I will not let the wonder of this season pass me by in a whirlwind of concerts, parties, gifts, and home-baked goodies. I will take time to fully experience every single minute. I will hold my husband’s hand while we watch our favorite Christmas movies. I will sip hot chocolate and listen to my children tell me what they hope to get this year. I will listen to the sound of my parents' laughter that has filled my years with warm memories and everything I've ever needed.

“Time Out!”

I will forgive myself in advance for buying the wrong size, spending too much, buying too little, burning the cookies, under cooking the potatoes, for not sending Christmas cards, and for the hot chocolate stain on my living room carpet.

“Time Out!”

I will stop everything around me long enough to tie my shoe, catch my breath, and find out why my kids are calling my name.

“Time Out!”

I think I could get used to this.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Cue the heavenly hosts

Now that Thanksgiving is out of the way, I am really looking forward to Christmas.

Before you judge me, let me reassure you I do love Thanksgiving. I love having a quiet day filled with warm smells from the kitchen, family from near and far, and a chance to take stock of all my blessings.

But on Friday morning, with a credit card in one hand, my phone in the other, and nothing but a slice of leftover pie for breakfast, it starts getting real.

Shopping for deals, hauling tubs full of decorations out of the basement, finding the perfect tree, flinging net lights over my bushes out front (and then turning them around so the burnt-out side doesn't show from the street and we can squeeze one more year out of them), keeping the cats out of the tree, hanging the mistletoe (which I just remembered to take down last Easter) - all of this and more can be accomplished in those few extra days off work Thanksgiving provides.

This is what the holidays could mean to me.

If I stopped there.

But that's just the fluff. The fancy, shiny, sparkly fluff that gives me warm fuzzies when I drink my coffee in the mornings with only the Christmas tree plugged in for light.

If we have lived through at least 15 Christmases or so, we have learned that shiny, sparkly fluff doesn't pay our bills. It doesn't help us lose weight or heal broken relationships. It doesn't thicken our hair, and it doesn't cure cancer.

It's just fluff.

When life is pulling out all the stops and really letting us have it, "Merry Christmas" can feel like a slap in the face if we're only looking at the fluff.

I'm glad God didn't drop a lighted Santa statue, or a turkey with stuffing, or even a stocking full of chocolate, in that manger a couple thousand years ago.

Because that wouldn't have done much for me last year when my five-year old dog had just died from lymphoma and, while she was suffering, I had a suspicious mammogram and had to go back for another test. And another. And finally a biopsy. Then, to top it all off, I developed a case of shingles and had an itchy, painful rash on my face for weeks.

There was nothing merry about that Christmas season for me. At least, not when I focused on the fluff.

But every time I stopped to consider what was actually given to me in that manger so long ago, I was humbled and awed in a deeper way than ever before. Because there, in the midst of fear and doubt and tears and sadness and even a little anger, the beauty of what happened back then in Bethlehem shone brighter than all the fluff.

Even though this year has not brought me the same stress, I still need a fresh reminder of what's behind all the fluff. I'm another year older, my back hurts a little bit more, and the world has only gotten crazier.

Cue the heavenly hosts.

Hidden away in an unimportant town in front of a bunch of unremarkable guys, thousands of angels interrupted the tyranny, sickness, fear, and death that makes up this old world to announce a joy and peace so unbelievable, so all-encompassing, so unexplainable, they just could not keep silent.

I want them to come back.

On that very first Christmas, God became like us. He cried and needed his diaper changed. He tripped and skinned his knee. He thought his mother loved John more (well, maybe not). He was human right along with us, in this world full of beauty and tragedy, joy and pain, hope and despair.

Because of that manger and its eventual path to the cross, every day can offer a measure of Christmas joy. And I don't have to drag it out of the basement or replace any burnt bulbs.

And as for those heavenly hosts?

If I listen hard enough and sit still long enough, I think I can almost hear them. Reminding me. Encouraging me. Cheering me on.

And that won't fade away in January.