I just plugged in the Christmas tree…not too many days left for that, as we will probably take it down this weekend. It’s really hard to believe that Christmas wasn’t even a week ago, it feels like months already. I was thinking this year that I don’t really love Christmas day at all…I’m much more partial to the Christmas season as a whole, but Christmas day feels kind of like a let down because it’s all over, all that build up and then…done.
It got me to thinking about just what I love about the season, and I think it’s the magic and the mystery of it all. The lights, the anticipation, the excitement of gifts to give, the music. As a Christian, the birth of Jesus is a central focus during this time of year, and even though my faith has changed dramatically, I can say honestly that during the Christmas season is when Jesus feels the most real to me. The story of the Nativity is so odd. Such a strange idea, that God would come to earth as a baby. But there’s such an other-worldly, magical quality to the Nativity story…the carols, even, in their minor keys, using archaic, slightly incomprehensible language. It’s like the one time of the year that we acknowledge that, yeah, this whole Jesus the Messiah born in a Manger thing is kind of weird sounding, but that we’re all ok with that. Even people who don’t claim to follow him will be caught singing about Jesus come to save the world…it trips me out to see some of the Christmas music put out by random secular artists. Singing about our sin and savior when you’re pretty sure they’re just looking to sell some records, not worship any one god in particular.
I grew up Catholic and I have to say I think they did a way better job of capturing the magic of the season. Those midnight masses, with the live Nativity at the front of the church. All the candles and the incense. You’re sleepy and tired and everything seems kind of dream-like. Evangelical church services are pretty cut and dry, even at Christmas. The advent wreath is kind of an afterthought. The church we attend on occasion does a nice finale where we all sing Silent Night with candles and it’s beautiful but otherwise there’s not much magic there. I was thinking this week about how we used to actually (sometimes) go to church on Christmas…which seems like a foreign concept anymore. I’m not saying I want to go to church on Christmas morning, but I wonder if maybe it shouldn’t be an option more than it is?? I don’t know.
I think most people want magic and mystery in our lives…that’s why Harry Potter and Narnia and Tolkein and stories like that capture our imagination. We want something to believe in that is extraordinary, beyond what we can see. I think Christmas could capture that for Christians…most of the time Christians have killed the magic and mystery of the faith. Everything’s been boiled down to a list of rules, a political ideology, a “Merry Christmas” and not a “Happy Holidays”, a who’s in and who’s out, us against them, we have the truth and you don’t, believe this or go to hell death cycle that apparently some people get off on but not me. And I’m guessing not a lot of people, if anyone’s really listening to people out there.
I was driving to the airport Christmas night, listening to my Christmas CD…the day was over, the season mostly over…but the stars were twinkling and I could almost see that little stable, with angels and shepherds and the magi somewhere far away noticing an unusual astronomical event…I could still feel the magic. I’m hoping that this year I can let that feeling, that mystery, be my guide in my faith and I can ignore all the people out there who want to stomp all that out in the name of some cold, practical faith.
Peace on earth…goodwill to men.
Ah, 2013 was a rough year for friendships. I could subtitle this “The Year I Was A More Terrible Friend Than Usual.” Looking back there are plenty of things I’m not proud of. I nearly imploded a few friendships of 7+ years…thankfully they have way more grace for me than I deserve, although I know in some ways things will never be the same. I could sit here and justify my behavior although the further away I get from the issue the less capable I am of doing this. I know at the time I felt righteously indignant about the whole thing but you know how time gives you a better perspective and I end up wondering what the heck my problem was. There were a lot of extenuating circumstances but none of them really excuses me for behaving like an ass.
I’m not really good at friendships. Thank God for Glennon Melton at Momastery…when I read this post http://momastery.com/blog/2013/11/26/somebody-help-figure-good-friend-others/ I felt such relief that I was not the only one who is not good at being a friend. So much of what she said resonated with me and my relationships with other women. I get so easily offended, I compare myself, I try and win arguments that don’t exist inside my head, I don’t answer the phone, don’t return the call, don’t text back, look for excuses to be busy. I know that hanging out with friends is valuable and necessary and yet when I make plans I am constantly looking for ways to get out of them but I don’t like to lie and so I end up going and I end up happy and thrilled and thinking “God we need to do this more often!” until the next time I make plans and I think “Oh man I just want to stay home.” I feel like I’m constantly undermining myself with my friendships. I look back at my life and I see a string of friends in my wake…friends who I keep in touch with but I’ve lost that intimacy with. It makes me sad when I take the time to really think about it.
Even if I wasn’t so self-injurious with my friendships, life just sometimes makes it hard to keep up your friendships. I feel like when we first moved to Maryland I was really intentional about getting together with my friends, old and new, for coffee, lunch, drinks, whatever. It was exciting to suddenly be around all these people I’d known for a long time, and not have the constraints of a short visit. It was so easy to do at first. And then…life just started picking up steam. The kids got involved in more activities, making nights and weekends busier. Bill took a new job with lots of travel. And then I worked…over the summer for the first time ever, and picked up another day of work this fall. Combine that with a mentoring program I’m a part of, and suddenly I only have 1 day free during the week, and I typically use that to get stuff done that I need to do, grocery shopping, stuff around the house, etc. I need to do mom things, I need to do wife things, I need to do me things like exercise and suddenly…where’s the time for friend things? And when a day comes with nothing on the calendar a lot of times I just want to stay home and not go anywhere or see anyone but my family. It’s such a tough thing to balance. And next month I’m starting this class which will add more things to my “to do” list…it’s discouraging.
Anyway…looking back on the year it was a tough one for me and friends. Some things are better. Some things…well, they need a lot of work. I totally withdraw when things get hectic and it’s a lot easier to withdraw from your friends than your husband and kids. Friendship can take a beating by life, even if you’re good at it. And I don’t think I’m all that good at it.
I guess that gives me something to work on next year though…
I’ve written before about how challenging finding a job can be when you’re 40 and have been out of work for 12 years while raising your kids, so I won’t belabor that point. But my job status has evolved from where it was a year ago and it continues to shape me and how my life looks on a day to day basis, so it seemed important to evaluate, at least to me.
I started the year waiting tables with my cousin as my boss. It was an interesting job and, at the time, all I could get. It was fun a lot of the time, I liked being around all the people I worked with. I genuinely enjoyed serving people…I think I was good at it. I was certainly personable and polite and tried to be friendly. I only encountered one jerk who was pissed that his burger came with a bun when he’d asked for it without. When I made a mistake (which was oddly much less often than I’d have expected) most people were incredibly kind and gracious. I definitely found that your tone and demeanor goes a long way to pave the way for a pleasant experience for someone. It was strangely easy for me to be nice to the people I waited on. Maybe because I knew it might affect the size of their tip. Maybe because they were only on my radar as a tiny blip…unlike my family, perhaps, who I have to deal with all day, every day…I knew my customers would be gone in less than an hour and I wouldn’t have to deal with their issues forever. Oh, sure I complained about the old folks who split their lunch specials and left loose change for tips, but I was always super polite and deferent to them. It wasn’t hard.
What got to be hard were a few things. Many days it felt like a let down to be 40, college-educated and waiting tables. That is probably elitist and snobby of me. But the bottom line was that I didn’t want to be waiting tables when I am 50, which was a major push for me to find something else. A lot of times I was the only female in the whole restaurant. Which was sometimes flattering because most of those boys were incredibly good to me, helpful and kind and even flirty which I’d be lying if I told you didn’t make an old lady like myself feel good. But good god. Somedays it felt like I was in a frat house. I heard way more illegal drug-alcohol-sex escapades than I need to for probably the rest of my life. It wasn’t that I was offended…just some days I wanted to shake them and say GROW THE HELL UP PLEASE! While other days their antics were charming. Restaurants are such funny places to work. There’s a total camaraderie in there but at my age and stage in life sometimes it was more than I could tolerate. Everyone there is smart and talented but god do they make some bad decisions. Just like I did when I was 24, so I get it. But somedays I just couldn’t take it. It was great to feel like just myself again, to just be Jen and not mom or wife or sister or daughter, someone that no one really knew much about but of course you can’t live unknown. It might be a nice break but it’s not a good permanent situation. And I wasn’t going to be hanging out with these kids outside of work, at best that would just be ridiculous and at worst totally pathetic.
So in late spring, I stumbled across my current job on Craigslist of all places and I headed to the Maryland Science Center (because I’m so…sciency???) to do Pop Up Science! with kids and their families visiting the museum. It’s another interesting place. Like any job there are days I love it and days I hate it. Everyone I work with is nice but you’re pretty independent during your work day so I don’t interact a ton with my co-workers…we’re supposed to be interacting with the guests anyway. You get in ruts where you take out the same old explainers and you’ve been talking about Sharks and Minerals and Geobubbles until your eyes pop out. Some of the people I work with are young kids much like the guys in the restaurant, and then there’s the old folks who come in because they like to have something to do now that they’re retired. Again I’m kind of alone in my age group. I’ve found that the type of day I have is largely dependent on the kids I encounter. I’ve seen the best and the worst of kids at MSC…kids who are polite, respectful, patient and kids who seem to have been raised by Neanderthals. I’m convinced as well that the worst kids are totally the result of the adults in their lives who may or may not be doing their jobs. Seriously the other day a chaperone FELL ASLEEP while her kids were doing a project. Totally conked out. Really? Then there are the hours where all the school kids have left and you’ve still got an hour to go and you’re sitting there on the floor with a pile of Dixie Cups you’ve built into a tower checking your watch every 2 minutes because it is a ghost town in there.
But on the good days…those are the days that have inspired me to start pursuing getting my teaching certificate back on track. Those kids who are engaged, and interested and curious and ask great questions and are funny…god I love those days. I love those kids. I still remember this one girl, she had this sparkle in her eye and I just thought “Damn I want to be that girls’ teacher.” I haven’t felt like I wanted to teach in a long time. In fact, just probably a year ago (when I had subbed a couple of times) I was still thinking Hell. NO. with regard to being in the classroom. But this job…if I get nothing else out of my time in this museum, it has been the desire to work with kids again that I am most thankful for. To get me pointed in a direction that actually feels like a direction, that actually feels like it’s going somewhere. I have no idea where I will be a year from now…still at the Science Center? Teaching part time somewhere? Doing something completely different??? But if nothing else I am moving forward now, where a year ago I felt kind of like I was standing still at a crossroads with no idea which direction to head. Well-I’m heading out now, starting my first college class in 20 years next month. It may be the wrong direction but I’m walking. I’m going. I’m moving. And that’s gotta be worth something.
Oh, and the bills got paid mostly this year so…I’d say success all around.
Christmas is a week away, which really blows my mind. It’s so hard to believe another year has vanished right before my eyes. I was thinking about it at work today as I zoned out in Dino Hall, trying to sum up the things that have happened in the past 12 months, what I’ve learned, how I’ve changed. I decided I’m too wordy to put it all neatly in one blog post, so I’m going to split it up into pieces to see where I’ve come from and where I’ve ended up at this point. So we’ll call this first one:
2013 In Books
In 2012 I read 88 books, which is a lot. If you look back in my posts from January I wrote about my favorite fiction and non-fiction books. Somewhere, on Facebook maybe? I set some goals for this year…for the life of me I can not find it on there, but I do remember setting the goal of reading 100 books this year. Well. Didn’t quite get there. It was a kind of tough year for me, book-wise. I hit a lot of ruts, had a lot more books that I was just “Meh” about, at least a few that I started but failed to finish (which almost NEVER happens). I had a lot of weeks where I just didn’t feel like reading at all. But, I did still read 70 books this year, and the good ones were good. Deliciously so. I’m not going to split it up, just give you a quick summation of my favorites:
1) “Help, Thanks, Wow” by Anne Lamott. Tiny little book with beautiful, profound spiritual thoughts. I don’t like to buy a lot of books but this one is definitely one for my shelf. Between her and Rachel Held Evans and Glennon Melton I swear someone is snatching thoughts right out of my head.
2) “The Beginner’s Goodbye” by Anne Tyler. Sweet fiction story about a man who suddenly loses his wife and then thinks he is seeing her everywhere.
3) “The Age of Miracles” by Karen Thompson Walker. This book was a miracle.
4) “Does Jesus Really Love Me?” by Jeff Chu. A gay Christian, Jeff travels the country and examines the entire spectrum of beliefs about gays and Christianity, from Westboro Baptist Church to a virtually all-gay congregation in Vegas and everything in between. Challenging, eye-opening, heartbreaking.
5) “The Silver Star” by Jeannette Walls. Wonderful fiction about two sisters growing up with a mostly-absent mother, dealing with various crises together and bringing a family back together at the same time.
6) “Carry On, Warrior” by Glennon Melton. This book is to die for. Literally. I read it and feel like my heart has been ripped out and thrown on the page and I mean that in the very best way.
7) “Red Ruby Heart in a Cold Blue Sea” by Morgan Callan Rogers. Beautiful work of fiction, about a girl growing up in Maine after her mom just disappears.
8) “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn. While I absolutely HATED the ending, this book kept me guessing and on the edge of my seat the entire time. Talk about a page-turner!! This book was absolutely nuts.
9) “Half of a Yellow Sun” by Chimamanda Adichie. Adichie is one of the hot up and coming authors being talked about. She writes about Africa which I love…this one is fiction about the Biafran War in Nigeria in the 60’s. Don’t know much about that? Neither did I. Really got the historian in my psyched up. And the characters, my goodness. I was so sad when it ended. I wanted to keep living in their lives.
10) “Americanah” by Chimamanda Adichie. Another great book about Nigeria and America, about race and culture and class and love…wonderful story.
11) “The Bone Season” by Samantha Shannon. Wow, this book, I hadn’t heard of it but Bill had and thought I might like it…it’s kind of like Hunger Games and Twilight and apocalypse and dystopia and all sorts of clairvoyant stuff that I had NO idea what she was talking about but it was totally fascinating and I could not put it down. Apparently going to be a series of 7 books and THAT is exciting. She’s a young author with an amazing vision. (don’t let the Twilight reference dissuade you…it’s much more grown up than that fluffy goo.)
And of course I read the new No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency book and was delighted as usual.
It was a good year for books, in spite of the walls I hit. Since I’m starting grad school this spring I’m guessing my reading will continue to drop off, at least for a little bit. Anyway, more shortly as I delve deeper into my year…