So many of the notes in our holiday card have wished me a happier, easier year in 2009. While I have been touched by the friends who have recognized that this year was a big year, and challenging year at our home I have also been a bit confused. Looking back I feel nothing but gratitude for this year, for the gifts and the growth. Does that sound too Pollyanna? I don’t mean it to be…And its not that I am denying the difficulty of what we have faced this year.  There have been real ups and downs.

Its true that 2008 has been a year that has felt a little bit like spiritual boot camp–but truth of the matter, I like I have been whipped into a new shape. Now that I am through it I can’t imagine where I would be without these trials. Sure, I hope 2009 brings us lots of blessings, but I guess I have stopped trying to define what “blessing” look like.

Still, this whole mental exercise, this questioning why friends thought our year might have been “tough” led me down a trip down memory lane. It lead me to this blog–which I so often don’t go back and read.  Its lead me to want to post here some of the posts that captured my poignant, even if they were impossibly difficult moments in 2008, the ones that make me bow my head in gratitude, some of the moments that were teachers and and now, old friends.   To honor them, these moments and acknowledge them before I bless them and let them go.

Thank you 2008…Thank you for the sweet gifts of laughter, joy, love that I experienced in your embrace.  And thank you for the lessons, the growth and the opportunities you gave me to dive deeper into my own heart’s wisdom. 

  • A Good Year:  The reappearance of my dear Jenni’s cancer called on both of us to question how we would live if we had only a year left.   
  • Somebody Loved:  My divorce hearing in February called me to look back at the journey of love I had been on with Juan, and how at the end of all this mess, I really found myself.    
  • Everyday Magic and the Gift of Wings:  A reflection on what happens when the Universe is in charge  
  • Rum, Serendipity and the Lass…:An ode to faith, the magic in the universe, the gift of friendship and things working out exactly as they should  
  • Transition :  What happens when the bottom falls out and when things get turned on their head.
  • Real:  What Max taught me about seeing and being seen  
  • Held:  My birthday card to myself. 
  • Things that Go Bump in the Night:  On fear and facing it  
  • Stay:What I learned about winter when I finally settled in.  

The house, even now, 5 full days after Christmas is full of junk.  The floor is littered with pieces of cardboard packaging, little bits of plastic.  Toys have taken over the living room and while it is a joyful scene I feel like we are choking on our abundance.

This was a leaner Christmas than ones past.  I made a conscious decision to limit what we would receive, what we would get.  And still, it seems like there is too much.  Too much in a house that was already bursting at the seams.  I have periodically taken long weekends to declutter, hired dumpsters and practically rented a my own personal truck to take unneeded goods to Goodwill.  But still, the things in our life seem to be taking over no matter how hard I try.  It is time for radical action.

This coming year I am considering an experiment.  An experiment about consuming less.  I am considering not buying anything unless we need it.

This is not an easy endeavor.  And if I am completely honest I have to admit that I am both overwhelmed and terrified about making this commitment.  Like every other red-blooded American who grew up in times of plenty, I have been and am susceptible to comfort shopping.  I blunt my discomfort with excess.  And then I grow fat, weary and a bit numb.

So I am, slowing, easing into a year without stuff.    But what does it mean not to buy something unless you “need” it.  What do we really need anyway?  Need is such a loaded word, a word that is more illusion than reality.  We need air, water and something to eat.  Does saying that we won’t buy it unless we need it simply mean–nothing but food, electricity, heat and medicine…clothes for Max when his get too small?  Or does it simply mean I am eliminating splurge/impulse buys? 

What are the rules?  What are the limits?  How does one design something like this that will work?  Am I simply formalizing the rules I have tried to live by or am I really trying to create new shifts in this house?

I have thought long and hard about it.  I am still working it out.  I am trying to figure out what does it mean.  

What does it mean to have a consumption free year…What kind of things can we consume?  Food is a given, but what about other things?  I am giving up services too–like dance class and guitar lessons (NO!) but then what about the things I “need” for those activities.  What if I lose my guitar tuner?  What if I “need” new picks.  And what about birthdays?  Christmas?  While giving up my Starbucks seems reasonable–am I also giving up treating Max and his friends to icecream? 

I am thinking long and hard about our goals…what I am trying to teach Max…what I am trying to learn myself and I am trying to create reasonable guidelines that will help us grow and will create radical shifts without being so impossible and scary that I get paralyzed.  If you have any ideas I would love to hear them.  If you have ever done such a thing I would love to hear what worked for you.

I have decided that along with my other posts I will try and keep a record of this year here on this blog.  It could be quite ordinary and boring….or it could create radical shifts.  I don’t know.  Its OK not to know.  And I’ve told myself that it is OK if this experiment is not perfect or saintly or radical enough.  Its enough just to play with the possibilities and give it a whirl…isn’t it? 

I wonder what will come of it?  I wonder what may happen or open up or close down for us?  I wonder…

On Saturday night, after dropping off a dear friend with her family, Max and I went to the Festival of Lights at the Mormon Temple just outside of DC.  It was bitterly cold and Max and I snuggled together under the extra layer of my coat, walking like a three legged monster through the fairy land.   Each barren tree was transformed into a firewords display–frozen in the height of its glory.

“Mama,” Max asked me “Why do we decorate with all these lights at Christmas?”  I reached deep into my knowing to answer him, not satisfied with pat answers such as “tradition” in a place that seemed so full of magic. 

“Well, baby…See its like this.  This is the deepest, darkest, coldest time of the year.  Its the time of year when it seems like summer will never come again.  But the light reminds us of God’s love.  We decorate the trees and our house with the lights to remind us that even in the darkest hours that God’s light is here.  When Jesus was born he brought light to this world and thats what we celebrate at Christmas.  Truth is baby, we all carry God’s light inside us.  The Christmas lights remind us that we need to let that light shine–even when–especially when the night is darkest.”

“Cool”, he said. 

Cool indeed.

This season has been especially still and quiet on our end.  We have had few parties and instead have opted to stay in and go to bed early.  It has felt right.  This season, I have felt so much like one of those shepherds.  Those shepherds keeping watch in the deep dark night, not sure what will come, but trusting, trusting that they shouldn’t be afraid. 

For the last week or so these words are the ones that echo over and over again in my head

A thrill of hope, a weary world rejoices…For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn

Fall on your knees…oh hear the angel voices….Oh night divine…Oh night when Christ was born

No matter our religous beliefs, no matter what we what we call it, Christ, God made human, is born over and over again in each of us.  We are called out of the dark, still, silent night to love unconditionally, and be light for one another.    This is our birthday, each of us.  This is the reminder of the light that was given to us when we were born.  This light–this magical light…Let it shine, tonight and every night.

May you have a blessed and beautiful Christmas and may you know stillness, inner peace and light.

Its the longest night of the year.  It is cold and rainy.  And yet, I know, deep in my heart that the world is turning, that the sun is on the rise, that goodness and possibility and joy are just around the corner, for me and for you too.    And all we need to do to get there, to the warmth, to the sun, to the bright days ahead is stay here, exactly where we are, with one another.

When the night has come, and the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we see
No I won’t be afraid…no I won’t be afraid
Just as long as you stand, stand by me.   

I am not quite sure what happened this week but something long stuck finally gave way.  Suddenly everything seems possible, not just in an intellectual way but in an easy going way.  Its as though a dam has broken or a clog has been swept away.  Nothing really happened to precipitate this feeling;  no event changed our perspective.  But it’s real and it’s good and things no longer feel so damn hard.  Don’t get me wrong, there is still an infinitely long list of things to do but they feel, somehow, so much more, well, doable.  It is as though a fog has lifted and the road is now clear.  Its as though the sun has broken through clouds so long hanging low,  I forgot what blue sky was like.  Its as though everything is the same but so much lighter…and truth is, I can’t say why.Maybe it is the stillness of deep winter settling over me, finally, settling into my bones so I can absorb it.  Maybe now that I have stopped fighting the rhythm of the season, I am suddenly free to flow along with it.  Or maybe, I am just finally well rested because I allowing myself to be quiet and from this rest deep energy springs.  I cannot say for sure what has created this sudden shift, but it is palpable and real.  I feel something magic in the air.  No matter what it is, I am grateful for it.  

It is raining now and quiet in this house of mine.  Downstairs Odette and her friend are laughing their heads off watching a Nigerian comedy.  I can hear them all the way up here.  My sick boy is sleeping next to me — finally falling asleep after the cramps in his tummy started to unknot.  I am relieved.

There is an undecorated Christmas tree in my living room and the office is full of boxes.  The new printer I bought was knocked over by the little girl I was watching and is upside down, but not broken–I hope.    The living room is full of toys and papers and the dining room table is loaded with things I can’t quite decide what to do with.  I think there are crumbs on the floor so I dare not look down.  I am working late into the night again at a job that is interesting and my throat hurts.  But not so much.  I have no clean underwear and I am wondering if I have it in me to throw that load into the wash so I can wear some tomorrow. 

There are so many things going through my brain right now.   To-do lists and stories mostly.  There are no fewer than three coats here on my bed and no fewer than 3 books on the floor.  I had Peruvian chicken with the really yummy spicy green sauce for dinner.  Thats good stuff.

In a few minutes I will send one last email and be done for the night–done with my paid work that is.  I might just call the rest of it a night too and curl up with a book.  Or maybe I will wash my underwear.  Or maybe I will pick up my guitar because I haven’t played her in two weeks and I miss it.  I don’t know. 

This is me, right now, December 16th at 10:38 pm.  Completely and utterly a lovely mess and completely and utterly happy. 

Here in the crisp dark cold early Monday morning, the week stretches out before me infinitely.  It feels like it will be a thousand years before I see you again.  A thousand years and a thousands disappointments, before you climb into my lap and wrap your arms around me again, whispering Mama.  My heart is aching seven ways this morning and I haven’t even left yet.

Life moves on.  It marches in a way that feels unexplainable.  Every time I am there I am not here.  I don’t want to be anywhere else.  All around me people are going about their lives.  They are cleaning and working and lifting and doing.  I am watching, from 10,000 feet up–maybe even 30,000–wanting to be there with you.  I want to help you move that couch.  I want to help you decorate that tree.  I want to help you do that grocery shopping.    I want to help you write that essay, cook that meal, fix that car, do that homework, sing that song, plan that trip. 

I miss you.

 

It is winter now.  The air is crisp and clean and the trees are now bare and stark.  The sky is growing darker, so dark we cannot see very far even though it is very early.  Max and I took the trash out tonight and he said, “Mama…stay with me.  I don’t know where I am going”.  I held his hand as he dragged the recycling out to the curb and then made his way back to the house.

In that one sentence I think Max captured for me the essence of winter.  I have not been able to let it go all night. 

Stay.

I don’t know where I am going.

Winter calls us to stay.  Stay inside.  Stay warm.  Stay with our quietest thoughts.  Stay with our fears.  Stay with our dreams.  Stay with ourselves.

And winter calls us to stay with the uncomfortable, scary place of  not knowing.  With the leaves all gone, with the tree roots hidden, we have to go on blind faith that the tree is alive and that in the spring it will be green again.  But truth is, until that tree buds, we never really know if it made it through the cold.    Will we make it to the spring?  Will we survive this cold snap? 

In winters past, I ran from all this unknowing in my life.  I sought answers to my questions about what would happen next.  When I couldn’t find them, I made them up–dreamed up how it would all be and convinced myself that I knew.  But now, after this last year, after this last month, all that I know is that I really don’t know.  And that after all that running, I was tired.  No wonder winter always makes me so sleepy.

But this winter, I am going to try something different–just for fun.  I am practicing not knowing, or rather, I am practicing being comfortable with not knowing.  For I never really knew…I just always convinced myself I did.  And I am wondering what might happen if I let go of all that convincing. 

Where there are facts to be found, like “Where did I put the peanut butter?” I will welcome them.  But on the big questions, the what will happen next…the what is around the next corner…the how could this possibly turn out…I am challenging myself, breath by breath,to let go of wanting to know.  I am taking a solemn vow to be OK with surprises.      Because they are coming anyway. 

I am going to practice being still.  And instead of chattering away with questions, I am going to listen.  Maybe something will happen.  Maybe not.  The finding out could be the best part.   

Stay with me.  I don’t know where I am going.