A few weeks ago, I received an email from one of the pastors of our church saying that she’s putting together an advent devotional book & could I write a devotion.
Now if you know me, you know that me? writing a devotion? is really effing weird. For example, this morning, I told my sister, brother-in-law & friend. Jennifer & Alex’s heads snapped around and they stared at me like I had suddenly sprouted another head. BIL Tom laughed really, really loudly. To say that I’m not religious would be an understatement. I have issues with God stuff. And then there’s the whole mother dying thing… that has really put a kink in Christmas too.
But Ellen, the email-writing pastor, knows this. So she asked me to write this knowing that what I would write wouldn’t be the typical scripture-spouting stuff.
I really struggled to write this little assignment. It was due last Friday & I missed the deadline. Ellen texted me an extended deadline & I missed that one too. The topic is Christmas traditions, memories, or a favorite story to share…. everything I wrote ended up being either happy & fake or honest & depressing.
So this morning at 2am, I finally finished something & sent it without rereading. And Ellen said it’ll work. It’s not perfect or particularly well-written. But this little pseudo-devotion is kind of a big deal… it’s a public statement that things are getting better. That this Christmas is better. That we’ve moved beyond the debilitating grief of Mama dying.
My contribution to the Christmas Advent devotional:
Growing up, traditions were an integral part of our family’s fabric. My mother in particular loved traditions, no matter how seemingly insignificant. She was even known to create new traditions on the fly in order to solicit family participation… the kids complaining about attending yet another family event? Call it a “tradition” & they have to come. The Christmas season was particularly steeped in tradition. Every year, we would go see the Nutcracker, host a neighborhood gathering, & a few days before Christmas, travel deep into the Virginia mountains to visit my grandparents with merrily wrapped gifts stacked to the ceiling of our Chrysler minivan, shouting Christmas carols all the way & praying fervently for snow.
Then in September of 2007, my mother died. Everything changed. We, & the traditions, fell apart. We didn’t do any of the things we had always done. It was just too familiar, too normal. In an effort to escape, we – my sisters, our husbands & my father – rented a little mountain cabin. And on Christmas Day, we disappeared. We drove to a small, secluded house in the Georgia mountains & retreated into a cocoon where there was no Christmas, no reminders, no familiarity… there was only the people who understood.
As the years have passed, Christmas has once again become joyful for our family. Seeing it through the eyes of our daughter Rose has brought the childlike wonder back to the holiday season. I find myself creating traditions just like my mother did… taking a drive in our pajamas to see the Christmas lights, enjoying the beauty of Boulevard’s Christmas celebration, &, yes, the Christmas Cabin. The mountain cabin that was initially a place we turned to in desperation has now become one of our family’s favorite traditions. It’s a place for us to retreat, not to grieve as we did that first year, but to grow stronger together. As this Christmas draws closer, we’re excitedly counting down the days… to the celebration of the birth of Christ, to the joy of Christmas with little ones, & to our time together as a family.