The Darkest Night of the Year at the Edge Of The World


We spent the Christmas week in Savannah and similar to last year, we left the girls there for a week at home without them. You would think we had a nice, lazy, relaxing weekend, but far from it, we spent five days cleaning out the house, throwing out junk and splitting the girls’ bedrooms up. We have thrown out so much junk, and even still we didn’t get everything out before they came back home. That’s an apt metaphor for this past year. It’s all been too much. I have been overwhelmed with too many things to do, too many things to think about, and too many things coming into the house to handle.

So, I am not really a person to make resolutions, but my goal in 2015 is to simplify, simplify, simplify. Whatever we decide to get the girls involved in during the winter and the spring, I am hoping it has less commitment than cheerleading and maybe allows me to take care of myself with a little bit of exercise.

This article about this year’s end of the year is, much like the rest of this year, late and succinct due to lack of time. However, we’ve arleady got the Christmas decorations put away and it feels like 2015 is open with some opportunity. I’m ready for a new start and a new year.

Darkest Night of The Year 2011

Adriene took a new job this year so she did not have very much vacation time. The girls are in preschool so this week I’ve had the whole house to myself during the day. I gotta admit, selfishly, it’s been incredible. I love my family but I don’t get much time to myself anymore to stop and reflect so I’m finally taking some time, on this darkest night of the year, to look back a little bit.

Halfway through this year, I was pretty sure it was going to be a bad year. Things were not going well in multiple aspects of my life. Thankfully, autumn arrived and with some changes my outlook on life improved. During the first half of the year, I didn’t do very much socializing and I started to let my job and caring for children start to smother me. I’m such a paradox, I don’t really like doing stuff with people every night, but it’s also emotionally damaging to spend too much time alone. I’ve tried to balance things out a little better in the second half of the year and it has been beneficial.

Raising two three-year olds was not easy this year, but it was a whole lot easier than raising two two-year olds last year and in September they turned four. So far, four has been even better. I hear we are entering the “golden years” for little girls where daddy is their hero and they haven’t become teenagers yet and boys and phones and makeup all become bigger priorities. I hope so. I’m not going to lie, the last years have been hard. Maybe one child would have been easier, but twins have felt like riding out a hurricane. It has gotten steadily easier year after year and I like the trend, but make no mistake, I still haven’t fully recovered from the first couple years. I am still very tired most of the time. We’ve had some fun but I’m hoping for even more fun in the next few years.

I miss some of my big Christmas traditions. I used to go see Over the Rhine or Andrew Peterson in concert, but neither came near Atlanta during Christmas and travelling is not as practical as it used to be. We tried to drive around and look at Christmas lights, but the girls were over it within ten minutes. What they really love most is to put Christmas music on the stereo and dance around the room. Each Christmas has been one of firsts and this is the first year that the girls have started to get a grasp on Advent. The Incarnation is still a little above their minds. They know that Christmas is birthday of Jesus but right now God is somewhere on the same plane at Santa Claus. I don’t want to blow their minds too much, there’s plenty of time for philosophical discussions in years to come.

So, for the time being we’re starting new traditions. Rocking around (quite literally) the Christmas tree, lighting candles, and drinking tea with my little Snow Princesses. Next week I’ll be home alone again and we’ll renew the annual Playstation Smackdown, I’ll rundown my favorite albums of the year, and clean out my office which will no doubt spur nostalgic moments. The year is slowly closing to a good end and we’re going to try and start 2012 as well as 2011 is ending.

The Days Only Become Brighter From Here
December 21, 2011

Imperfection on The Darkest Night of The Year

I’m not a tree-hugging cosmic hippie, mind you, but for some reason I do like to do something special around Winter Solstice. This year I had a fine day planned out. We would take the girls out for our annual drive around the nearby neighborhoods, pick up some coffee, maybe even get the girls some hot chocolate, put some peaceful Christmas music on and drive until the girls were sleepy. We’d bring them home and I’d enjoy a quiet evening writing up a summary on the year and reflecting on life a little bit.

Then one of my children somehow broke the TV. The new TV that is my birthday gift, anniversary gift, and Christmas gift all combined, broken. I don’t know what she did but if you have toddlers in your house, you know you only have to look away for thirty seconds and somehow your nice expensive thing is ruined. I spent over an hour on the phone with technical support with no help (well, at least they are fulfilling their obligation with the warranty and replacing it.) By the time I got off the phone, it was too late to go out. The girls were miserable and upset that their promised trip out was canceled. I was in a foul mood and sent them straight to bed. A fine evening ruined.

Unfortunately, that’s the way things seem to work out with small children. Much like going to war, plans with small children are usually thrown out after the first sortie. Adriene and I spent a great weekend in Chattanooga away from the girls while they spent time with the grandparents. We had such a good time and I would’ve thought when I returned I would have more patience with them but it seems like I’ve had even less. Maybe they are just hopped up on too much candy around Christmas, I don’t know, but there have been a lot more tears and punishments in the last couple of days than I can remember in a while.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the reasons for my discontent lately and I think much of it comes down to the fact that due to either the workload of work and children or my general laziness I feel like I’ve only been putting out 80% effort into everything. I get things done “just enough”, but not really up the quality that I would expect it done. “Good enough” is a phrase I unfortunately use a lot. The guy who lived in the house before me was the father of four children under the age of 4 and I used to wonder why every house-repair job in the house was done so, ahem, halfway (I have a word that I like to use for this, but this is a polite blog, you see.) Now, I totally understand. In the new year, I hope I can push forward and exert a little effort, even if it is tiring, but still recognize when “good enough” is indeed good enough.

Imperfection has been on my mind a lot lately, particularly around this Christmas season. I’m sure when Mary and Joseph trudged into Bethlehem tired from the long trip that being forced to sleep in a stable was far from the perfect homecoming they imagined. Yet, that is exactly the way God wanted it play out. Christmas is all about imperfections. We all have that perfect Christmas planned out with the happy family sat before a table bursting with food and presents while a perfect little snowfall happens outside. (By the way, the weather man is predicting snow on Christmas day this year? Nothing like the whole city of Atlanta freaking out on a holiday. Dreaming of a White Christmas? More like a nightmare if people get stranded on icy roads trying to get to their holiday events.) We don’t get perfect little Christmases, however. We get ungrateful children and arguing family. We get a load of work waiting for us when we return to our jobs. We get credit card bills. We get disappointment because our perfect little Christmas was not so perfect. And yet… yet, the hope of perfection lies there in the manager, that some day every sad thing will become untrue. It’s easy to get lost amongst our own personal expectations that we are celebrating God working in His own perfection. There is perfection on Christmas and it is already here and not yet here.

The days only become brighter from here.

Songs for the Day After Christmas

I love the buildup to Christmas. I love the anticipation during the month of December. I love all of the music, TV specials, and Advent services at church before Christmas. I’m finding, though, that one of my favorite times during Christmas is the day and days after Christmas.

This year we had Christmas at our house. We didn’t feel like traveling and we had the ultimate bargaining chip, two little grandchildren. So everyone descended upon our house and it was chaos. Beautiful chaos, mind you, but chaos nonetheless. Here is where I have to reiterate that are very, very, (I’ll even add another very for emphasis) very blessed with our family. We don’t have the drama most families have at Christmas. We just have a loud, good time. Adriene’s parents had been staying with us for a couple days and my parents arrived in the morning. There were piles and piles of gifts to be opened, mostly for the girls, of course. All of the gifts were wonderful, my brother-in-law even delivered with some of my favorites of this year, though I have to say I don’t think I got anything I didn’t like. Still, it was chaos, beautiful chaos, and the girls were clearly overstimulated by all the noise and people. By the time evening came around, they were pretty fussy and irritable and so it was a bit of a rushed, hurried exit for everyone as they tried to leave before it got too dark and we contended with two unhappy infants. Then it was night and the house was quiet. The girls finally settled down and there was peace. And it was beautiful. The house was turned upside down and there were boxes and wrapping paper and opened gifts everywhere, but we’ll tend to that later. We sat in the low light in the house and played some Christmas music. There was peace. And it was beautiful.

I love the week after Christmas, because I usually have the week off from work and my schedule is usually pretty open. It’s a great time of reflection over the past year for me. I use the time to sort through junk in my office and throw out stuff I should have thrown out earlier in the year. I veg out and play video games for unreal amount of hours. Every year, some friends of mine have a small gathering where we play video games all night (this year was Rock Band, I totally nailed singing “Orange Crush” by REM. On Easy. But still.) and afterwards I love driving home and seeing all the Christmas lights in the towns around Atlanta one last time before everything is put up.

Some friends of mine leave their Christmas tree up all the way to January 6. Epiphany. Twelve days after Christmas (you know… “On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me….”) I don’t know how long our tree will stay up, but I like that Christmas doesn’t immediately vanish on December 25. I listen to a lot of Christmas music in December and I don’t like to totally cut it out on the day after Christmas, so I usually slowly phase it out and start mixing in other music. Terry Taylor has a song called “Song For the Day After Christmas” that reminds us to reflect and remember Christmas, even as we’re putting away all of the decorations and trying to lose all of that holiday weight. This year has brought a lot of big changes in our lives and for just a couple of days, it will be nice to reflect on the year before jumping head first into 2008.

The Darkest Night of The Year… With Kids

Ten years ago today I was in the process of deconstructing myself down to the foundation. I had to figure out what I wanted and what God wanted to do with me. I really had no idea about either of those two things, so I spent a lot of time alone. I guess at the time I was probably perceived as sulky and detached, but I hope not. During the week of winter solstice, I drove to Nashville and spent some time in Chattanooga on the way there. I wrote pages and pages of lousy prose and such during that time, but it was good to dump it all out my brain.

During the week, I got to see an Over the Rhine concert. I was in the process of redefining my musical tastes and I latched right on to the sound of Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler. Ten years later, I’m still eagerly listening to the music of Over the Rhine and building on that foundation I started. After starting over, one of the next tasks I started on was reconciling Christmas and coming to terms with it. I started to embrace both the sentimentalism (of which there was a lot in my past) and the tacky (of which there is a lot in my present) and be able to laugh and smile about it all while remembering there was a Truth underneath it all.

I always been told that Christmas changes when you have children. I guess part of it comes from buying gifts for your children. Of course, we aren’t buying very much in the area of gifts this year. That’s what grandparents are for! I think for me this year it has more of identifying with Mary and Joseph. No, we don’t have the Son of God in our house, just two little girls, but I understand some of the anticipation and anxiety that they must have had. I mean, I know how much anxiety I had when Adriene was pregnant (“will they make it out alive?”, “will they make it out with all four limbs?”, “will one jump out, slash my throat, and go on a rampage in the operating room, horror movie style?”) and I have a lot of anxiety now (“will they be smart?”,”will they be motivated enough to get jobs and not move back into the house with us when they are 25?”,”will they irritate me every day crying for Elmo toys?”,”will one of them pull a Jamie Lynn Spears on me and end up pregnant at 16?”) I can only imagine how much anxiety filled Mary and Joseph.

I know Mary must have had a lot of anxiety when the angel told her that he was to be the father of the man who would die for the world’s sins. That’s why I love that one of the first things that the angel said to her was “do not be afraid!” Fear. It keeps the 24-hour media channels in business. We can’t turn away without looking to see what country, what politician, what war, what natural disaster is threatening us next. But God tells us not to be afraid, even to Mary in the imminent foreboding that her unborn son will die a horrifying, agonizing death. Do not be afraid.

So, with an election year coming up, let the politicians promise us things they can’t deliver. Let them try to scare us with certain doom if they are not elected. Let the talking heads on TV spread their fear of what will happen if this person or that person is elected or is not elected. I will not be afraid, nor will I be afraid for the two little girls in our house. We will trust the little baby, almost the size that they are now, who became Son of Man and Son of God.