The kids were gone this weekend, and I needed the alone time badly. I usually try to catch up with friends or get out a little on a weekend I don’t have kids at home. But this was a two-week stretch of single parenting that included the insane pace of grading final exams as well as periodontal surgery which is still hurting a good bit, especially when I try to eat or talk. I’m growing tired of the healing process for it, but as with all things in life, it takes however long it takes and you can’t rush healing.
When Friday night arrived, I did nothing but eat soup from my most recent kitchen fascination. (Have you guys seen this thing? I LOVE it.) And I watched Love Actually which is probably my favorite Christmas movie – a yearly tradition for me. Saturday brought a required work function during the day and visiting with family a little, but Saturday night was more of the same – reading, watching television, enjoying my quiet house.
Christmas is an intense time of year, isn’t it? All the reflections of the past year can come rushing back a bit. All the reflections of Christmases past as well. All the posed Christmas cards and Norman Rockwell images we try to blend into. All the demands to measure yourself against everyone else.
I stumbled on a post from Momastery this weekend where she said, “This time of year always makes me thrilled to remember this: Once upon a time, God decided to send God’s son to Earth. God needed to pick an Earthly family to care for this precious boy. So God scoured the land searching, searching for the perfect family for this special, special One. And out of every family in the whole world, God chose a young, poor, single girl to be Jesus’ family. And later, a step daddy. A young unmarried girl and a step daddy. That was the perfect family. It just makes me remember that our human ideas about what constitutes a perfect family are not necessarily God’s. If you are a parent of a busted up or single or blended or step or struggling for money family and you wonder if that’s good enough for your kiddos well….it was good enough for God.”
At the end of a year when I have learned to rest in imperfections, to see the value in the unexpected, and to finally recognize myself as enough, this really struck a chord for me. It’s so amazing, right? That it’s the very things we dread or hide that actually work the magic in us. Those wrinkles and cracks and unexpected hiccups are what the universe uses to mold us and to change the world around us.
My church this morning was in my pajamas and with coffee in hand on my couch. I watched a Marianne Williamson talk about relationships and spirituality. She explains, “We can start over. We can be better. We can know that yesterday I was weak and today I am strong. … Where I was selfish, I’m going to be giving. Where I was bound in fear, my love is going to free me – because I, no better than anyone else but no less than anyone else, am an instrument of God. I am a lamp through which this light is meant to shine.” That image of a lamp and electricity from a divine source is something that resonates with me in a powerful way. When we stop trying to accumulate things for our own self and start wondering how we can use our specific experiences and gifts and talents to better the world around us, life opens up in a shape it didn’t hold before. I hope to fill that purpose, and I think I’ve seen that light shine a little this year already. It’s only when we are transparent that we allow that light to travel through us and travel outward to everyone else.
And as Mother Theresa once said, when you don’t know where to begin, you have to start with the people closest to you – those you know and see everyday. Being real in our conversations and listening intently. Asking someone what it is that she needs. Saying thank you and really meaning it. Putting yourself in someone’s shoes really and truly – not just giving empathy lip service. Really taking the time to stop your hectic pace, put yourself in someone’s position, and hold bodhichitta for a minute makes all the difference. I’m not ashamed to say that I was not as good at doing that before, and now that I understand what heartbreak really means, I’m better at real empathy. 2015 has left me a fuller person than it found me.
I feel blessed that I have seen my own life transform when I’ve shared my truth this year, and I have seen others transformed in small but significant ways by my honesty as well. Emails from readers or friends or students, every little word has been encouragement. I’ve experienced a deepening of relationships with my friends and my own kids. Any discomfort I feel when I show my own cracks and bruises has been returned with a reward beyond measure.
I’m realizing it makes a few people uncomfortable too, doesn’t it? When your family doesn’t fit the shape theirs does and your life doesn’t fit their expectation and you are happy anyway, people just don’t know what to do with you. I’m not sure what to do with that criticism other than ignore it. I choose to spend my energy to shed a little light and open my own path and purpose. If there’s one thing I know it’s that there is enough happiness and abundance for everyone. If I’m happy and loved and respected, it doesn’t make you any smaller even if your worldview looks entirely different from mine. Fill your own self up, and you will see that there is enough for everyone.
Next week is busy with a million holiday activities and a few appointments thrown in the mix. We are baking cookies and singing carols and wrapping gifts and doing all of the things that give life to this season, and all the while, I’m hoping not to forget what gives it purpose. Other people can take what they want from the story of Christ, but what I take is this: God loves. And more than that he chooses to love the cracks and scars the most. He himself chooses the broken as a place to let in the light. In any faith and in any interpretation, God is never for the winner. The one with the most money or power or perfection? It is never that person who experiences the divine in the truest sense. Within the broken, the underdog, the defeated – that is where it begins. Rumi said the same thing in the thirteenth century as well: The wound is where the light enters you. But you have to admit there is a wound there in the first place.
I am ordinary, like you. But I am also extraordinary, as we all are. I have unique gifts and a heart with a capacity to love in ways it didn’t before. Cheryl Strayed said on a TedTalk once that “The journey to the extraordinary is through the true root. Finding within ourselves that voice that we know to be true … We are all ordinary and we are all extraordinary, too. The line is very thin, and the way to reach to the other side is to follow that truth that is at your core… It’s all stuff that’s inside of us. We have that there in abundance. It’s not all good, that stuff that we have. But it’s all in there together. And it’s what will feed us in our lives and on all our journeys.”
Truth is a powerful thing, isn’t it? It can make you feel naked and exposed, but after that shock wears off, you feel a freedom that lends you the bravery to do anything you desire.
We made cookies tonight when the kids got home. Flour everywhere, sticky hands, wasted sprinkles.
They turned out pretty ugly, truth be told, but we ate a few anyway. It’s in these ordinary seconds with them that I see the season in its very best light. The awareness of the here and now, no expectations or demands. The reminder that the divine speaks to us in the humblest of moments when we pay attention.