Monday, December 26, 2016

When Idealized Days Get Real (Christmas)

One fun thing about being back in DC for Christmas is that we got to visit our old church.  On Christmas eve,  Jamie  said  it's especially bad "when things go wrong at Christmas because it shatters the perfection" and I had to laugh.  Ben and I -- I'm slowly realizing -- do not thrive at Christmas.

And when we do it badly -- shall I walk through the years?: sit in the living room in smoldering silence, livid, as we set up hot wheels for our four year old boy; show up at the family dinner table after a full blow marital-rocking conversation hardly able to breathe;  stand in the sunshine together putting up a tent to surprise the kids with fire coming out of our ears because we didn't coordinate our efforts -- the discordance feels harsher than on other days because Christmas is supposed to be ______________.

It's the problem of special days.  Even the best kind of days when we celebrate the most important things: special days are supposed to be special.  And the "supposed to be" leaves them riddled with pressure.

I used to call this the Snow Day Effect because every time the kids had a snow day, I'd ram into my idealized expectations of what the day should look like (outings to the monuments, art projects all together at the table), and the pressure killed it for me every time (though they generally were happy to do nothing but play around in the yard and drink hot chocolate).

At church on Christmas Eve, Jamie talked about the rats in the barn.  I'd never thought of rats before, but of course barns have them.  Mary's baby was born in a barn that smelled like a barn and had rats in it.

And before that, she'd had to travel nine months pregnant (for those of us who've been nine months pregnant, it's pretty uncomfortable) SITTING ON A DONKEY (laughably terrible).  And after however many days of that, when they finally arrived in town, every place was full; she, possibly cramping, sweating, starting contractions, literally had no where to labor.

Talk about a bad Christmas and thwarted expectations.  (I bet there was at least a little marital tension in the mix, too).

And yet, that's where this beautiful moment happened, in the middle of a dirty stable that smelled like cows, between two poor refugees:  God came.

I would never say I'm striving for perfection, but I do get pretty bent out of shape when my expectations are jolted.  Or when I can't live up to the pressure I've heaped on myself.  And certainly if there are rats in (or near) my room, or if my house (or anywhere near it) smells like sewage.  Or there aren't clean sheets, or even soft enough sheets where I'm sleeping.

Mary might have bitched and moaned through her whole nine months, as they traveled, when she crouched in dry brush to go to the bathroom unable to see her feet because her belly was so big, the days or day when they couldn't find anywhere to stop.  She may have cursed angrily during her labor that straw was poking her legs or there wasn't enough water.  But I'm guessing she didn't.

The Christmas story, itself, is about "perfection" with all of its expectations, shattering.
It's about how the perfection's actually been shattered all the time, despite how we decide to orchestrate our snow days.

Next year will I head into Christmas knowing Ben and I will collide and probably wrap presents angrily together?  Probably not.  But maybe for a second I'll remember that everything went "wrong" the first Christmas, and something about landing in the barn made Mary, the baby, the stars, the gathering of all those unexpected people, more beautiful.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Moana -- a Reminder

------------------warning: this is riddled with full blown spoilers (like the whole movie)------------------

This morning I heard a powerful sermon about the creation story, and one thing it reminded me of is the power of being named into being, or named back into being.  

Drawn by Lin-Manuel Miranda's music, my husband Ben's been set on our seeing Moana.  He tried to take us every day this week; we missed the start times, arrived after it was sold out, thought of it just as the kids melted down.  I casually suggested more than once that he take the kids without me, but no, for whatever reason, he wanted us all to go.  So finally today, we did. 

Though I liked Frozen well enough, I stopped hoping for an empowering Disney heroine after that --  Anna led the charge, sure, and sisterly love won out in the end, but her spunk and free spirit was undercut by her cutesy, beyond naive ways and her classic quickness to fall in love.  She was less than I’d hoped for my daughters.

Moana tips the tables.  The redemption is all over the place: -- SLIGHT SPOILERS -- she’s the “daughter of a chief” and a future chief rather than a princess; she makes much of her voyage alone; she gains courage from herself and her grandmother rather than the men in her life; she doesn’t fall in love with the ego-driven muscled demigod she’s with nor try to impress him ever—rare if not unheard of in a Disney film; and in the end she returns home to both of her parents.  There was much I reveled in.  What struck me most, though, was the revelation of the true self at the end of the film.

The terms "false self” and “true self" have been so utilized in the last decade that I'm rarely struck by their profundity anymore.  Yes, we have a false self, the Ego, that masks our wounds and parades around, loudly, distracting from our insecurities, and somewhere beneath that voice, is our quiet created true self that with healing, emerges more and more, engaging authentically and birthing our strengths.  

In the movie, as Moana follows her purpose, her singular task is to return the heart of the sea to Te Fiti, the goddess who created all life and then became an island, herself.  The most terrifying thing about returning the heart stone, though -- besides fierce adorable coconut pirates -- is the Lava Monster, a raging fire-throwing, she-beast.  

Tonight is the last night of Thanksgiving vacation and though we ate pie every day and got a Christmas tree (on the second attempt), we did have some lava-monster moments (the first attempt) over our five days at home. 

When the lava flares, we usually address it in one of two ways: hightail it outta there or fight lava with lava. Neither goes well.

Moana handles it differently.  In a turn of events -- MAJOR SPOILER ALERT -- Moana realizes that the lava monster is in fact Te Fiti, the goddess, raging without her heart, and without hesitating, Moana walks through the sea straight toward the monster who’s trying to kill her. 

When they face each other head on, instead of flinching, Moana leans into the creature's face, touches her forehead to forehead, and says, this isn’t who you are, this isn’t who you really are. Instantly, the monster’s lava flesh darkens to stone, and her flaming eyes close.  Moana leans in and replaces her heart.  Grasses and flowers burst to life along the monster’s charred black body and in seconds, she’s restored to the beautiful island goddess, vibrant green with mossy skin.  Her health radiates out into the sea, heals the “darkness” plaguing the islands and they all bloom again.  Te Fiti’s back to her true self. 

How often when my heart feels emptied – in large or small ways – do I, like Te Fiti, throw fistfuls of lava at anyone who comes near?  My kids would tell you it’s not rare.  What would happen, in our lava states, if someone came toward us, came forehead to forehead when we were trying to scare them off, looked in our flaming eyes, and reminded us: this is not who you are, not who you really are.  

Our hearts come back that way.

It’s a whole different kind of brave to walk into hate and speak a true word like Moana does.  
Like Te Fiti, we need others to remind us who we are so we can return to our selves as stunningly as she does at the end of the film.