I don’t know where you are
but I certainly can’t seem to
I’ve exhumed the ornaments and lights.
I thought for certain you’d be there–
nestled between pieces of the crèche
playing hide and seek with the Nutcrackers.
But you weren’t.
I thought if I turned on some tunes–
even the mellow ones–
I’d hear you swooning.
Your voice beckoning me
to sway to tidings of great joy.
Instead I discovered the Cheetah Girls
have a Christmas Album.
I thought maybe just maybe
I’d find you about town
in the crowds of bustling people
maybe you’d be making merry
and some of that would rub off on me.
I found lots of the latest and greatest
gadgets and gizmos
But didn’t feel a single touch from you.
I think sometimes I confuse you
with the Holy Spirit.
I assume you’re the same,
and to be faithful means to feel
This year I release my need for the holiday spirit
and have found
an empty dwelling that yearns
for the Holy.
I received one of the best gifts this Christmas. Time. Although the Cafe was open on Christmas Eve, I was not scheduled to work. For the first Christmas Eve in several years I did not have the shoulda, woulda, coulda voices singing carols in my ear. I spent this Advent on the bench, and Christmas Eve would be no different. Our busy blended-family “holiday time” did not need to be added to the roster of worship services or emergency calls. I did not have to be in multiple roles at the same time trying to be fully present in all of them. What a gift!
Now, don’t go thinking it was all Norman Rockwell meets Hallmark Movie. Of course it wasn’t. Like many other families, we drove over the river and through the woods to Grammy and Pop’s to open presents and savor snacks. This time was rushed and filled with the raucous joy of five children. Then, we drove over the river and through the woods to church. If you’ve driven a distance in the dark with children satisfied with dinner and packages, you know what happens. Sleep happens. Sleep. So, you can guess how delighted we all were to pile out of the car and into the pew. Not very.
As we squished into the pew, I remember breathing deeply and thinking…”so this is what it’s like…to juggle a blended family, visit, and slide into church on Christmas Eve.” I honestly don’t remember much about the service that evening. I simply remember the feeling of gratitude. Gratitude for time on the bench. Gratitude for how far we’ve come. Gratitude that God chose to enter this messy world in a family that defies stereotypes. And I knew Christ the Lord was being born again all around me.
Most of my life, I think I’ve been a Mary. I’m a creator. A dreamer. A Spirit-filled woman bearing new life into the world. I haven’t spent much time thinking about or contemplating Joseph. Growing up, our church’s Christmas pageant focused more on Luke’s version of Jesus’ birth. Gabriel approached Mary. Mary sang. The focus of the drama was mostly Mary. Joseph always seemed along for the ride.
This Advent I find myself sitting with Joseph. Joseph, the man barely mentioned in the New Testament. Joseph the steady and faithful follower of Torah and God. Joseph, the step-father of God. Can you imagine being the stepfather of God? Goodness knows, being a step-parent is hard enough. I can only imagine the fear and trepidation of learning your call is to parent the child of the Holy Spirit. It takes the ubiquitous step-child’s slam–“You’re not my real father/mother”–to a whole new level.
Perhaps that’s why so little is written about him. So little folklore told; so few carols sung. Step-parenting doesn’t tend to inspire sugar plums, silver bells, or sleigh ride melodies. Joseph, like most step-parents, doesn’t play the sensational or show-stopping role. He’s not the character most authors focus on. And step-family stories are not usually the ones we like to tell at Christmas. But this Advent, Joseph’s is the focus of the lectionary, and in reality, each year we tell the story of a step-family. I can’t help but wonder what that would mean to blended families if we talked about this story in that way.
Sometimes step-mothering feels like it could be an amusement park ride. It has the twists and turns, climbs and chasms of an old wooden coaster. I would be lying if I said I always love the thrill of the ride. I don’t. Honestly, sometimes I find myself feeling as turned about and inside out as I do after getting off an amusement park ride.
Take this weekend. It’s the second week of Advent. (Or in the girls’ minds—it’s 18 days until Christmas.) Snow is in the forecast. Our calendar is packed with what could be labeled “good old fashioned Griswold family fun.” From starting with a sleepover, to traveling through cookie baking with friends, and coasting to a close with family snow fun, these are all wonderful. I love them. But throw a holiday hair-pin turn in there. And the rickety-speed that accompanies “blended family life” (there’s a reason the term involves a lot of shaking around), and you get one high-energy, action-packed ride.
Anyone who has been to Hershey Park with me knows, I like rides in small palatable doses. I enjoy the Comet—from the ground. I delight in waving and smiling at my beloveds on the ride. Sitting on the ride with my beloveds—not so much. The sensory overload combined with the lack of control isn’t always my first choice for fun. In fact, it’s more like the ride provides practice for spiritual disciplines like letting go and letting God. Like recognizing that feeling in my stomach can be excitement or fear—it’s my brain that chooses. Like remembering that I, like my beloveds, am along for the ride.
When I’m honest, I can say—this term amusement is bogus. It isn’t always so amusing. The same can be true of step parenting. It isn’t always amusing. Many moments it’s tough, and some days it’s down right over-whelming. Just when I find myself wondering, what’s next, the girls surprise me. After an evening of over-tired and over-sugared girls, I found myself counting the moments until bedtime. And praying that it would be that—bed. Shortly after tuck-in, I heard my step-daughters humming themselves to sleep with Christmas carols. It’s like the wind in my hair on a roller coaster. Grace whooshes all around me. I can let go of the handlebars, raise my hands in the air, and tilt my head back to enjoy the ride.
The cotton candy carols on the radio
sing of your Sweet Son.
The department stores
swell with bright bows, packages,
and perfectly proportioned pine trees.
I’ve found Your Advent
more like a new clarinetist
playing through a carol–
Some measures full of melody
while others squeak into existence.
Remind me to listen for You
in the squeaks and silence.
Entering Advent in the wilderness feels right in a way I can’t quite capture or describe with words. It is like the perfect blend of butter, onion, celery, and sage in stuffing—full of comfort and longing all in one bite. I imagine the Israelites hearing Isaiah preach of God’s promise to call them to the mountain-top. A time to look down on the beauty of creation, to beat swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. A time where the wilderness will no longer be wild but can be cultivated by weapons resurrected as tools. This vision is the longing of Advent.
A longing that looks back at yesterday to honor what was and looks forward to what could be.
This palpable, palatable longing first visited me Thanksgiving evening. Shortly after arriving at my sister’s, she asked if I would make the gravy. Gravy has been a nemesis at our Thanksgivings the last five or so years. The challenge of timing and texture were mastered by my Grandmother. Like most family recipes, when she passed, so did her mastery. I remember watching her mix the turkey drippings and flour in the bottom of the roasting pan. Her pointer-finger, the measure stick and sample spoon, would evaluate when it was just right.
So when my sister turned to me and asked if I would make the gravy, since according to her, the gravy I made three years ago was good, I accepted. I used a pot rather than the roasting pan and ended up supplementing with a jar of gravy. (How else could one ever make enough gravy for 25 people?) But somehow it came together. As I quickly whisked the flour and the drippings, I knew I had found the mountain-top for a moment in the wilderness. Now my index-finger would be both measuring stick and sample spoon. Now I, too, could flavor a meal with comfort and longing.
Take her out of the box
and off of the shelf.
Free her from the
we’ve locked her in.
Even those bars
can’t stop her from
She is Mary
She is not for the weak
or faint of heart.
She was the first to welcome You
the only one we see reprimand You
and the one who refused shield her eyes from Your death.
She is made for a week such as this.
A week that calls us to love
to watch and to witness
to stand and to sing