I have debated writing a blog this December because I am in full on compartmentalization mode. I have a special skill of which you may not be aware – I am a TERRIFIC avoider. I mean if they gave out gold medals in the Olympics (either summer or winter) for the sport of avoidance – I would win! Hands down! Play that National Anthem, baby! I am a total champ at all kinds of avoidance activities. I can avoid topics of conversation, people, eye contact, and even trains of thought – like a BOSS! So it is no surprise that I tend to employ this remarkable skill every December. Without this particular skill, I wouldn’t make it through the holidays and I LOVE the holidays and am not willing to give them up – so trigger the very intentional act of putting thoughts and feelings in a drawer for the month of December.
You see, 10 years ago on December 20, 2007 (just 5 days before Christmas) the most important man in my life (at the time) died. It was a Thursday. It was the first day of my Christmas break from teaching. It was a cold and wet day. According to the On This Day website, Elizabeth II became the longest living monarch of Great Britain and a famous Picasso painting was stolen in Sao Paulo. Other than that, not much of note happened that day. Well except for the fact that my dad got on a small airplane to Ohio that morning and never made it home. Except for the fact that Christmas took an about face from a time of joy and thanksgiving to a time of sadness and goodbyes. Except for the fact that for a year or two after, I wondered if I could ever really be happy at Christmas again.
But you know what, God is pretty cool. And to prove this coolness to me, he sent three very important things into my life (two before 12/20/07 and one after). This blog is the story of:
The Two Wise Men and the Little Princess
Wise Man #1
While I was a teacher, my Dad and I worked in the same building and would often have lunch together. On one such occasion, we were talking about a situation I was dealing with in one of my classes. I had a parent-student-teacher conflict that I wasn’t sure how to navigate and it was consuming all my thoughts, energy and time to the point that I was finding it nearly impossible to move forward in other areas of my life. I thought about this problem morning, noon and night. I chewed it over in my mind. It weighed on my heart. It was literally sucking the life out of me. I just couldn’t move past it.
On this particular day, I think my Dad had finally just had ENOUGH of my whining and told me that if I wasn’t able to just get over it, I needed to at least “put it in a drawer” and walk away from it for a while. If for no other reason than to SHUT UP about it to him! (He didn’t actually tell me to Shut Up, but I have to think he was thinking it – because I was pretty annoying.)
I don’t think I had ever heard the phrase “put it in a drawer” before, but ever since that conversation, I have in my mind a file cabinet (it is one of those black metal ones that used to line the walls of my college professor’s office, if you were wondering). It has 5 drawers – I don’t know why it has 5 drawers, it’s my mental picture, I don’t have to explain it. And when I have an issue or an emotion or a problem that I just can’t seem to get over and move on – I picture myself putting it in one of those drawers.
Now, lest you think that I am in a full on state of denial – I do come back and take the “thing” out of the drawer at some point. But I have found, for me that the act of putting something away for a bit and not letting it control my thoughts and attitudes is a healthy practice – so the file cabinet remains. This practice has also allowed me to prepare for the Avoidance Olympics – so it is a win all around!
I think it is funny that certain conversations, which in the moment seem mundane and inconsequential, come back to your mind when you need them the most. Hang onto that thought for a moment, we shall return.
Wise Man #2
I met a boy. November 2007 (a little over a month before Christmas) I met Terry Jones. If you’ve not met Terry, let me share with you one inescapable fact – the man loves Christmas! When I say he loves Christmas, I mean he LOVES CHRISTMAS! He loves it with a child-like joy that is infectious. He owns multiple Santa hats and wears them to every party or gathering in the month of December; he knows “most” of the words to every Andy Williams’ Christmas song. He loves Christmas lights and Christmas trees and Christmas movies and Christmas cookies and really everything Christmas.
On December 24, 2007, he showed up at my tiny basement apartment wearing a Santa hat and bearing gifts. We watched C-Span “On Books” and cuddled in the soft light of the Christmas tree that still had presents to my Dad under it. He refused to let me “cancel” Christmas that year or any of the years that have followed. He quietly but forcefully moves us into the Christmas spirit – through sheer force of joyful holiday will. Because for him, it truly is the MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR! And everyone in his sphere of influence better think so too! Or else you will find yourself with your very own Santa hat and wrapped up in colored lights – I am kidding – kind of.
And so, since that first Christmas “after” until today, we make Christmas a big deal in the Jones house, because if we didn’t – well the Santa hat/lights thing.
The Little Princess
We had a baby girl. If I had ever had the momentary intention of canceling Christmas, watching my beautiful daughter experience the wonder of the season banished it. Arden has definitely
inherited her Daddy’s love of Christmas. Well except for Santa – she is still totally freaked out by Santa. I mean, she loves that he brings her toys and eats the cookies and milks she sets out for him each year – but she has NO intention of sitting on his lap in the mall (and really I’m ok with that, because that is a weird tradition anyway – forcing your kid to sit on a stranger’s lap – weird, I say, weird). She loves talking about the Nativity Set we have in our home and singing Silent Night. She loves Christmas jammies and having a decorated tree in her room. She loves all of it. And the Princess gets what she loves – because she’s spoiled and I love her and I love her joy and I love her abandon. And so there is and will always be Christmas in our house.
And so, this is Christmas – a time when I choose to tuck away some of the pain and focus on the joy. I fill up the drawers in the cabinet in my brain with the hurt and pull out the happy. I relish each part of the decorating, baking, singing, gift buying, card sending, and merry making. I exercise my avoidance muscles because, for just these few weeks, I get to be immersed in something that makes the pain actually more bearable when it comes out of the drawer. The promise of a Savior who will dry every tear.
And so this makes me think – maybe the filing cabinet in my mind is less a mechanism of avoidance and more one of surrender. Maybe the filing cabinet in my mind is my metaphor or mental picture of this verse:
Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. I Peter 5:7 (NLT)
If I expand my mental cabinet filling movie, I can picture God at the back of the cabinet – taking out what I’ve put in and absorbing some of the pain; wiping some of the tears; repairing some of the hurt. Because I have found, since that long ago conversation with my Dad, when I come back to pull out that problem, issue or pain from the drawer and take another look – it isn’t nearly as big, bad or painful as when I put it in there. And just maybe in that – there is healing.
Merry Christmas Everyone!
The Lord bless you
and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.