Christmas on Jenny St.

Last night was the annual Christmas party that was held by the woman I work for a few days a week. Let me back up and say that the reason I took this job was to get out of the house, make a smidge extra cash and really set my foot into Madison more. I have been a bit disconnected these past years now that I’m no longer living downtown, I stay home with two wee children all day and the main people I connect with on a weekly basis are my mailman, not in that way, the check out woman at the gym and people in the organization I work with.

I have been lamenting over the fact that not only do I have few adult conversations during the week but I feel that I am a woman of strong influence; my ideas and my ability to communicate them as well as challenge people to think a bit out of the box make me feel electric when I’m in the zone and lately I feel I’m not moving about in that zone as much as I would like. I have learned so much over the past 15 years on how to listen and to simply be interested in people. I love to engage in the process of discovery and dilemma with people around me but there have been months where I have felt that the only talk that comes out of my mouth is a dissertation for my son about the methods of taking a pooh in the toilet. We still haven’t mastered that one yet, much to my deep disappointment. I’m telling you, as they get older the pooh gets bigger. Nuff said!

So this job has been something I have been looking forward to. It’s only for a few hours during the week because as much as I have felt this is the right thing for me to do for my own sanity I sure do value being at home with my kids. The days that I go in have been giving me an outlet to be creative, I’m sewing, and also talk with grown ups. I am not one of those women who join three different play groups during the week so this is one way for me to be around people.

My husband and I, with our kids in tow, came to the annual Christmas party not knowing what to expect since I only knew two people that would be there. First our son, being the ball of energy that he is, came right up to a group of older kids playing with a train set, didn’t even look them in the eye and sat right in the middle of their train set and started grabbing at toys. I admit I was getting nervous of what the night would hold with chasing the boy all over the small flat as he grabbed toys, opened up every drawer in the kitchen or tried to mess with the entertainment center. How would I have a normal conversation with anyone while chasing him around? He did do well considering he grabbed an entire baguette and started to chew on the end of it. He also climbed into the refrigerator, ran away with the host’s cordless phone as she chased after him to get it back and hit a little girl. Those were the minor hiccups of the evening. But for the most part I really enjoyed myself.

I spoke with a cross dresser named Kate and felt awkward referring to him as her while I was speaking with Kate’s parter. He/she was very nice and loved to hear about what I do as a missionary. I have to admit that in a situation like this I never know what to do. Should I talk about what I do? How should I phrase it so they don’t automatically think I am a right wing, republican that has held up her picket sign in protest to those ‘dam liberals trying to run this Godly country into the ground’? Should I have a glass of wine….or two? Should I laugh at an off-color joke, even if it was actually really funny? Should I have had a good time when I was just talking about how awful salmon and blue cheese made my breath smell? Would it have been ok to have had a great time while talking about nothing meaningful at all?

These are the real dilemmas people who leave missions to go into the ‘real world’ have to wrestle with and I have known that for a long time. I feel that it’s so right on to walk the tension of being a light in the world without putting your light under the bushel of the holy huddles we create for our safety and comfortability. I am experiencing just a taste of what a lot of our students deal with when they go home or our staff who have left our communities to work for a living. It’s such a different world and it’s one that I don’t want to be afraid of in terms of potentially making mistakes. I’d just like to have more sorted. Would we all?

Needless to say I really loved being around strange and flawed individuals last night. Not because I feel that I have the glue to fix them…even if I am convinced that our design is marred by a smog of decadent cultural fixations and there is freedom to be who we were created to be. I enjoyed myself because I felt right in the element of the real world in which everyone lives. There were moments of feeling awkward especially when my son wasn’t sharing or I was talking to a man who dresses like a woman, unsure if I should tell him/her what I really do for a living. But I love that Jesus got out there with people and he not only enjoyed them but he moved about with them in such a normal and mundane way. He spoke, not just of being raised from the dead but also about wheat and an honest days wage. He had this triumphant message about a new era that was coming but he also lived a life where he worked, he ate and drank, he used the bathroom, feel asleep and woke up with morning breath. He laughed and he thought right alongside the people just outside of his door. What a rockstar to take his life to the people and live it with them; to embrace people in their world as he pulled them into his.

I’m certainly not making the comparasion of my life and a moment at a Christmas party to what Jesus accomplished. I am challenged and impressed with the normalness that he lived his epic life among people like you and I. It’s easy to feel this burden of making a huge impact in the world and leave behind an impressive legacy; to always be intense! But most of us are really average and ordinary folks and our lives are pretty ordinary.  I think most of it comes down to being interested in people and loving your neighbor. Everything else seems to build off of that.

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the most wonderful time of the year?

I love Christmas time. My husband makes fun of me, as do others, for the fact that I absolutely love to listen to Christmas music. I must admit that hearing Bing Crosby burble through White Christmas sure does cause a similar feeling inside of me that my kids have when they know there is a gift for them to open. I’ll find myself singing it just like he does. Don’t we all? I may have even caught myself swaying while it was playing. I also purchased my very own copy of Jazz to the World this year and I screamed inside when the package came for me via Amazon mail (welcome to the 21st century of online holiday shopping). At last, I OWN Christmas musik!

If it weren’t a holiday season these months would just be known as the “cold and flu season” and nothing else. I do wish that Christmas would fall on February or Januray instead because it would make the rest of winter something to look forward to. As it stands once the holidays are over you have a dark and cold spell to try and make it through, especially if you live in the midwest. Once February hits and you’ve seen the temps plumit into the minus catagory you begin to ask youself, as would any good American, “what the frig am I doing living here?” So for now I am enjoying December as a time of happy spirits and yuletide joy. I even watched Shrek the Halls with my kids tonight! So maybe seeing a green ogre pick his nose and fart the tune of jingle bells doesn’t have Jesus is the Reason for the Season written all over it but there is an effort to tailor these shows into a festive theme and I really enjoy taking advantage of the fact that they only come once a year. It’s too awkward to watch a Charlie Brown Christmas in July. I have actually considered it!

I think the reason I love Christmas music is for the same reason that any kid from a dysfunctional home loves to look at Norman Rockwell paintings….or hates them depending on their ideals and expectations. I think I had always wished my life and childhood was more like one of this paintings; well blended in family values yet with a hint of mishivisousness. Each picture told a story and you were the interpreter. Everyone was happy and neighborly and even in the midst of the poverty of the great depression there was life, curiousity and family.

Christmas music makes me feel how I wanted my life to be when I was a kid. I may be putting too much depth into Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer but I guess the picture that was always painted of Christmas was the ideal I longed for. Each year my Christmas was one in which I opened up countless boxes of unmet expectations and then in a flash it was finished until next year. Then we cleaned up the paper and I went to my room to smoke a cigarette (that was the teenage era). Poverty was a staple in our home and my mom tried to make Christmas special so to compensate for our lack of money she would wrap countless gifts that held no real value to make it seem like I had more under the tree. Imagine the disappointement of a child who opens six huge boxes, all of them the same thing….blank video tapes!

My expectation was never an Atari game set or a Casio keyboard but when my neighbor got both of them I smiled to her face and said, “Cool. You lucky!” Then I went to my room and cried. I actually would have been happy with very little. My disappointment came from feeling like people didn’t know me and what would make me feel special. It also came when I knew a lot of money, which we didn’t really have, was spent on something that I didn’t want and we couldn’t return. I still remember that blasted Tandy computer. Tandy computer? Exactly! You’ve never heard of it either! The guilt that came in my heart from feeling ungrateful at someone’s huge sacrifice was enough to throw me into a depression until early Spring. I felt guilty for being disappointed especially when I knew there was an effort to make me happy. It was confusing because I was never sure if I was ungrateful or numb. Remember our teen years are always melodramatic. Looking back I’m sure I was just numb, but it was likely peppered with a dash of disappointment. I hated the fact that my mom would spend money to make me happy and in the end I didn’t enjoy most of the loot that was given. The “stuff” had the opposite effect. I would have been happy with going out sledding and coming inside to warm up by the heaters; we could be like those people in the Christmas songs.

Back then Christmas never felt like a time to celebrate family or to enjoy the cold weather…let alone see a chestnut pop. What the crap is a friggin’ popping chestnut anyway? The songs made me wish that this was actually how Christmas would be. I’m sure most of the traditional Christmas songs are words of high ideals and fantasy that even the songwriter is unlikely to experience. I mean who actually goes riding in a one horse open sleigh for the love of Pete? I guess there are a few well to do people that get the chance to go on some sort of carriage ride through Central Park but they usually have only 6 months to live. I’m just saying it’s not a Christmas tradition. A Christmas tradition is watching your mum rush around the kitchen because dinner is served in 1/2 hour and there are a bunch of impatient kids wondering where the beef is. I still remember the year my mom dropped a streaming hot artichoke on the dining room floor right before she dropped the F bomb. As I saw the pale green artichoke bounce onto our ugly orange and brown vinyl floor I actually ached inside for mom because I knew she felt bad that she couldn’t pull it off. Mom tried to do something special for everyone and that bit of special landed right onto the dinning room floor in a hot smooshy blob.

That is how I remember Christmas…a day that came and went but I wished it would have lingered and lingered in a different way. I listen to the songs and make a decision that Christmas will be about what they are singing…not the Grandma getting run over by a reindeer bit but more the dreaming of a white Christmas bit. They make me think about the season I am in and it actually makes me excited for the time of year that it is. It transcends the frigid cold and the high heating bills. For a few months I feel grateful for the cold and I love to be cozy in the house with my music and Rooibus tea.

But then I make a trip to Best Buy and realize how much I hate Christmas and wish that I could literally impale the bratty little punk that is chastening his mum for purchasing the wrong IPod in that smarmy little pre teen posture. That seriously makes me want to deck someone’s halls! I’ve walked out of stores because I thought I might end up beating someone with mistletoe until they were bloody just to snap them into the true holiday spirit. Hallelujah!

So mock if you will at the fact that I actually enjoy the Peanuts Christmas album. It gets me in the mood and helps me remember to love this time of year.