December 29, 2012 7:44am

An Honest Appraisal of Christmas 2012

Where to start? Honesty during the Holidays is a dangerous consideration is it not? Details of the truth about the days before and after December 25th can be threatening.  In a land of plenty, it is our conceit to be discontent and even angry with our world, or our presents, and our family, food and drink. We compare our bounty with others and in many ways feel that our gifts are lacking. True? Of course it is true. I have knowledge of my own family and many others with which to make this determination. Little spoken of, rarely admitted, but freely witnessed by those with open eyes.

And so it happened that the greatest gift I received this holiday season was a sermon about hope. Hope, you may or may not know, was my Momma’s name and my oldest sister’s name. My first sister, Hope, died when she was a year old, having never come home from the hospital. Hope when there was none and then came my second sister.

Hope has played an enormous role in my life and yours too I am sure. “I hope I can stop sucking my thumb, I hope my best friend is in my first grade class, I hope my sister doesn’t yell at me when I miss a word while she’s teaching me to read, I hope Belk’s will let me exchange the cross your heart bra I won for a sailor dress, I hope I make the cheerleading team, I hope I get voted captain, I hope my boyfriend is not cheating on me at lunch with a long haired red head, I hope I pass music theory, I hope I get in medical school, I hope I can get pregnant and have a child after I hope I get a proposal of course.” And on and on the hoping goes until now I hope for patients who don’t late cancel or no show and a publisher for my books. Ha! Life changes and the hope list does too but never grows shorter.

As you can easily guess, the sermon about hope was not about badgering God for gifts and presents that you need or want to receive. The beauty of the sermon and the gift from my pastor was that we must love and worship a God of unanswered prayers. Ah! Prayers remain unanswered and yet we remain hopeful still me thinks?  But I need a car and I want new earrings besides a publisher and a loving family that never bickers or complains. How can I worship a God of unanswered prayers? And who wants to anyhow?

And so on goes the sermon about how while it may seem hard to hear the word of God and especially the promise of salvation in a world filled with dissension, if you listen, you will find it. Political polarities exacerbate economic uncertainty, conflict and tension about gun control rises over the graves of twenty small children and six adults and let’s not even mention the A word, abortion.  “Listen,” he admonished, “and God will speak.”  “Our God is a universal Power of unanswered prayers in a world that is changing,” slowly, sometimes at a pace that seems unbearable to us and with poor direction but it is changing. That is the gift I received on the fourth Sunday of Advent from my pastor and I believed. I had to, any other choice surely brings despair.

Did Jesus look around on the day of his birth and cry because he was born in poverty and homelessness? Did Mary bemoan the donkey ride into Bethlehem because she was in her ninth month and could barely tolerate the jostling? Did Joseph weep in agony when they had to flee to Egypt and live in exile, fearing for the lives of his family? Of course they did and so do we.

We weep and gnash our teeth at the problems of our world. And we mourn the  lack of love and bedazzlement we feel when we open the Christmas presents lying under our tree. Every year too. We complain and bow to  a God of unanswered prayers with both awe and belief that one day our prayers will be answered, our world reasonable and loving, our families healed and pleasant and our presents sufficient.

After months of anticipating my daughter’s return from Thailand, we find living with her unbearable. She is homesick for Thailand and angry with us. She is angry that she can’t see her Asian friends, angry that her study abroad friends text and say they miss her and they are coming over and then don’t show, angry that the food is not Thai, angry angry and not a smidgen grateful. But most of all she is distraught that her beloved Paddington, the dog she chose and trained and cared for as a pup, won’t acknowledge her presence. Oh my. We put Paddington in her Santa suit and took her to the airport with great expectations for their reunion but for two days she would go limp or run away if my daughter approached. Wilton was beside herself with grief. As her Mother, I know this is so and I took the brunt of her discontent. Although, I’ll have to say that this time she was not speaking to her Father either. Refreshing.  And her brother, when she spoke to him, you had to hold your ears. Ouch!

I drove four hours Christmas Day to pick up my Mother so she could be with us. I can’t stand to celebrate without her but then even when she gets here, she is gone. She sits in a chair not interacting with a vacant look, picking a scab on her hand that will surely get infected if she doesn’t stop but she can’t remember. She can barely get up from the chair that wasn’t so much of a problem at Thanksgiving. And when she does speak, it is to ask me over and over if I am tired or what is in that gift bag on the coffee table which we have stated 20 times is a gift from a friend. I’ve lost her. So it doesn’t really matter to her if I get up and drive four hours Christmas morning. She can’t remember coming or going or how long she stays or that I bought her a vest, two coats, five new tee shirts, a pair of fake diamond earrings and two pairs of pants because she used to love clothes and dressing up. She is gone and no matter how hard I try to be a really good perfect daughter she is never coming back. She’s gone from me no matter how much I love her or miss her or want her to tell me she like’s my new hair cut or my goat cheese stuffed salmon, she can’t. Another unanswered prayer in a changing world.

As usual, I am discontent with my presents. I fantasize about a small sporty hybrid with a big red bow on the grill just like in the ad on TV, (I really need one honestly) or a romantic get away weekend or something exotic like the fake or not so fake diamond earrings I got my Mom. Maybe this year Santa will finally get that I don’t like practical presents under the tree like cookbooks and pots and pans. But of course He doesn’t, does he? No people don’t change after thirty-one years! Me in my wanting to be dazzled and my husband in his need to be practical. Cookbooks and pots and pans are what I got and now he has my oldest son giving me cookbooks too. Practical in stereo. Ouch! Unanswered prayers in an unchanging world this time. But what is changing is me. What is different is that I have learned to be grateful, “Thanks for the cookbook honey. It will remind me of our trip to Italy. I love it.” “Thanks for the cookbook. It will remind me of my trip to Thailand.” Never mind that I will not use them. I haven’t used a cookbook in years. You guessed it. I make up my recipes! So it is unanswered prayers in a changing world. The receiver can change even while the giver remains the same.

Pretty daring if I decide to publish this post. Some folks will react with pity. Oh, poor Julia, her daughter is mercurial after being away for seven months, she got a wok and some cookbooks for Christmas and her Mother’s got dementia. But I don’t see poor Julia.  I see a loving husband who spent all Christmas day cooking a rancid standing rack of rib roast and when no one could eat it, he calmly served up the Yorkshire pudding, which was also rancid because he made it with the drippings. I see a Momma who can look at me and say “Thanks, you made my Christmas. I’ll never forget this,” even though we know she will. I see a daughter struggling with her reentry into our culture, determined to maintain her autonomy in the face of her Mother’s fierce love. I see my son mentoring addicts who are struggling to stay clean or recommit to sobriety. I see a beautiful older son who like his father bought me a cookbook because I am an amazing cook and he likes Thai food and thinks we can cook that too. Anything will be better than rancid meat, right? I see love and laughter, humanity and frailty. And yes, I see lots of unanswered prayers in a world that is changing slowly and sometimes not for the better. But I also see God in every face, every word and every heart. I see the promise of hope in the darkness of death and despair. And sometimes I think I see the bright shining light of my one year old sister loving us all. This year on the last Sunday of Advent, I dedicated my life and love to God-the God of both answered and unanswered prayers in a world of slow change. That was sufficient. It was enough to make me happy. Who could ask for more two days before Christmas? Not me.

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