Wednesday, December 11, 2013

When My Traditions Lose Heart

I love traditions. I love the expectancy, the waiting, the excitement, the expectation, the build up.

 All this waiting and excitement mirrors the expectation for the Christ-child.

Christmas brings the advent of many traditions in my family.

I long and wait and plan for that Saturday after Thanksgiving when we make the trek to the mountains to cut down our Christmas tree.

For years and years we have made this pilgrimage and I love it no less today than I did when I was 8.

I love that it's my family--all of them--the whole wild passel spilling through the trees, tumbling down hills, filling the air with smiles and shouts and giggles as we search for the perfect tree.

I love that we are together--all of us. Family.

My dad is the root digger in my family. He's walked hard and long and painful to learn family, to live family.

Family is sticking hard and true when cancer ravages a grandma's heart and soul. Family is staying close through long nights and longer waits and doctors and bad news and the long haul.

Family is hurting with a sister when a husband lies between here and the after for months with hoses and tubes and bandages and sickness spilling out. Family is loving out compassion and living out empathy and loving through and loving while and loving after.

Family is knowing that a frail father's Alzheimer's mind needs a different love. Family is deep and runs faithful giving back to the roots what time and sickness has stolen fierce.

Family is taking those who have no family and loving them and grafting them into yours. Family is not blood but choice, commitment, grace.

My dad lives family in a quiet, gentle, graceful way. He has taught me deep down where things get etched in truth, because he's not afraid of hard, of grief, of joy, of pain, of sorrow, of gladness.

It's family who offers grace when others throw judgment. It's family who sticks when others fall away fast. It's family who doesn't give up but commits to the long and the hard and the painful. And whether it's family that you are born into or family that you is family. Family is eternal.

And when we are stripped of our leaves and laid bare, it's the roots that matter, that keep us, that ground us. 

I adore every messy, dysfunctional, crazy, chaotic, heart-wrenching bit of family--because they are my family, they are my roots. And roots run deep into grace. And grace runs deeper still.

So Christmas trees and the Christmas traditions we carry over from year to year remind me of family, the ones we're born into, the ones we make, the ones we're adopted into.

But I need to keep revisiting the "whys" of my traditions because what happens when my traditions get old and trite and worn and one-more-thing to do on my never-ending list? What happens when I cling to what I've always done because I've always done it and I don't remember the why to justify the doing?

What happens when I lose the heart behind the tradition?

What happens when I lose it?

In a season jam packed to bursting with way too much of just about everything--too much candy, too much food, too much spending, too much on my calendar, too much on my list, too much of too much--I struggle with losing my mind.

I can't catch my breath and I gasp for something elusive and just out of my reach. I get lost in all the stuff and I can't see the forest for the trees--I can't remember the "why" for any of it--and frankly, in the moment of too much, I probably don't want to think about the "why" for any of it.

Sad, right?

Traditions can become like habits. The things I do without even thinking about them--like brushing my teeth or folding the laundry--a mind-numbing task to check off my to do list.

Instead of coloring the tapestry of life with brightness and joyfulness, reminding my of my blessings unmeasured, my eyes shift and I lament and my heart mumbles under its breath because one more person wants one more piece of me that I don't have to give. And I can't catch my breath.

When my traditions lose heart, I have to take heart and slow down.

I confess saying yes is my Achilles Heel. If it sounds good, then it must be good. And if it must be good, it must be God working and I should say Yes. And then my plate is crowded to overflowing with so many passionless yeses and there's no room and I can't breath, suffocated by all this stuff that isn't the stuff of grace and the things I need to say yes to have no spot to sit.

And then there's this downhill slide to a small, but very potent, emotional breakdown and it's just not pretty. I have to grant myself permission to say no, to let go of what I think I'm supposed to do, and to be.

It's hard to focus on what really matters when I am moving too fast, doing too much, and not taking care with myself and my time and my people because what really suffers in all my yes-ing is my family.

I am learning that not all good things are the good things I am called to do. And just because something is good doesn't mean that I have to say yes to it. When I can be still, breathe grace deep, then I will hear the small, quiet voice of the Lord and then I know.

Grace. In a season where we wait earnestly for the Christ-child, I seem to forget grace made manifest, love made tangible, redemption made mortal.

We worn and tired wives and mamas and sisters and daughters know the demands of juggling babies and in-laws and presents and dinners and where-are-we-going and what-are-we-doing and being pulled in a thousand directions at once and it's hard and it hurts and we end our days wondering what's so great about Christmas.

I have to cling tighter and harder and fiercer to the One who offers freely the gift of grace.

I have to remember that at the end of the day, the only things that really matter aren't even things--they are people, my people, my roots.

Our roots, our legacy, begins with Adam, with Jesse, with David, with Mary, with Jesus--Immanuel: God with us, God in us.

When I can get rid of all the weeds that choke tight and threaten sanity and blind my eyes and really grab onto my roots, cling desperately to my legacy, my Grace roots, I remember Immanuel and the earth shifts slight, the ground shakes quiet, and world gently rights itself.

Oh blessed breath of Heaven, breathe in me and through me and around me and within me. Breathe grace. breathe. deep.

Traditions are meant to remind us of our legacy, our roots--where we come from, who we are, to bring us together, to draw us in, to bind us tighter. Without that I only have empty, meaningless, graceless habits.

Advent is a season of waiting, of grabbing hold of our roots in expectancy, looking forward to the Christ-child's birth. Traditions are part of the expectancy, the waiting, because they remind us of what's coming:

Immanuel. God with us. Grace with us. Truth with us. Love with us.

Grace Always Rises,