Back in October or November, I started feeling the presence of Advent and its weight on the calendar despite the fall leaves hanging on trees and handprint turkeys coming home from school. Even though Halloween costumes were still the priority and meal planning for Thanksgiving was first and foremost, Advent was on my mind. What would it look like this year? Which daily activities would work best? Which version of the Jesse Tree should we try this year? Should I buy two of every activity knowing my youngest, now three, could participate?
So, I planned. I scheduled. I researched. I blogged about it. And December 1st hit, the perfect beginning to a new month, to Advent and the march towards Christmas. We had the promise of family and friends coming through town. Crafts to do. Menus to plan and food to buy. Church services to attend. Presents to buy and wrap. The to-do lists were full but ready for the roller coaster until December 25th.
Then December 6th came. A storm was predicted. It was on the “agenda”. It was planned and maybe even expected. We enjoyed a wonderful day on the 5th visiting a winery and the Willamette Valley with a visiting friend. Little did we really know what was around the corner. When we moved to Oregon in July, we, as “newbies”, were told we might get a day or two of snow, but nothing serious. Well, indeed it was only one day of snow. But the difference? For six days FOLLOWING the snow storm, school would be cancelled. Church would be cancelled. Christmas parties cancelled. Life pretty much ground to a halt. All the party food I had purchased at Costco? It became our daily meals—brie, crackers, mini quiches, sliced meats, cheese platters. No lunches to pack or homework to finish up. Just sledding. Movie watching. Hot chocolate drinking. And…..MULTIPLE Advent activities unfolded. Cookie baking. Cookie decorating. Gingerbread men. Gingerbread houses. Santa’s Village Shrinky Dinks. Snowflake cutting. Friends slid over too, if they had specially equipped vehicles.
Life changed during that week of being housebound. We fell into a rhythm. We settled into our little cocoon and slowed down. It felt like the Advent we were supposed to have. Not weeks of rushing from one activity to the next, glossing over the people and relationships that matter most. Not worrying about the pressures to do everything with a perfect veneer. Balanced, planned meals were let go for finding sustenance in what we randomly had in the pantry. We spent a lot of time together as a family unit. That was the only option and oddly enough, many of the sibling struggles dissipated. We weren’t rushing from prescribed activity to the overwhelming commitments. We were together in our imperfection, just present.
Two years ago, Shauna Niequist shared a wonderful post (http://www.shaunaniequist.com/present-over-perfect/) a week prior to Christmas. It was a wake-up call for me—a reminder that presence is much more important than perfection. It encapsulated the pull we all feel to do it all, at the expense of experiencing anything in a meaningful way. I had picked up some new chalkboard markers the day before the storm hit and took some time to transcribe Shauna’s words to the wall in our kitchen.
I wish I could have remembered the truth of these words back in October and November when pushing to plan and be manic over the holiday to-dos. Maybe it took an insane snow storm to force God’s still small voice into my rushing and self-induced pressure? But now, as I begin a new season, re-entering the education field working as part time 2nd grade teacher, I am trying to learn from my December snow school. The storm that God used to teach me some much needed lessons. Lessons of meaning, presence, quality, relationship and people over perfection, quantity, rushing, pressure or mania. As much as I may plan for my own kids to be cared for, brought to school, for lessons to be taught to my students….life happens. God lives and breathes and moves in us. It can’t always be mapped out and planned. It can be unpredictable and yet, rich. Flexibility leading to trust and faith.
May this new year be one of blessing for each of us. A chance to stay present in the moment. To take deep breaths and slow down and pay attention. To put less on our plates and do better with the commitments. And most importantly, to narrate this to our children. To remind our kids that Jesus did the same thing. He took time to be present with those around him, in a way that was meaningful and put their needs first. God calls us to relationship and ministry of place. Even when that relationship might be those in our immediate family and place could mean the confines of our very home while snowed in.
What will we make of 2014? Or better yet, what will we leave “unmade” instead? I, for one, can’t wait to see how God allows this all to unfold.