Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Light In The Darkness

I went to church online tonight. I always go to church on Christmas Eve. I can't actually remember a time in my adult life when I didn't go to church, somewhere, somehow, for Christmas Eve services. If the church I was attending didn't have a service I would just drop in on another church. I even went to church on Christmas Eve in Iraq one year.

Tonight I'm away from home. I had intended to go to services with my mother anyway, at a church she found nearby, but it was a long day of travel after a poor night's sleep topped off with about thirty minutes of wandering around in the rainy dark dragging suitcases and a tired four year old trying to find the rental apartment we had arranged. My nerves and temper had frayed, I was snapping unfairly at my family, and I knew that going out to find another strange place in the cold wet dark would just not be wise. So I called my mother and let her know that we'd see her tomorrow but we needed to rest this evening.

I still wanted to go to church though, and it occurred to me that probably some church, somewhere, would have an online service. This is the twenty-first century, after all. So I looked, and sure enough there were quite a few. I ended up dropping in on Resurrection Church (, a United Methodist Church in Kansas City, as they were kind enough to stream their service. I was able to listen in on their service and watch their candlelighting, which is a very traditional (and much loved, at least by me) part of a Christmas Eve service. 

In a candlelight service the lights in the sanctuary are extinguished, to symbolize the darkness we all experience in life. Then a candle is brought in, which is called the Christ candle, the candle that represents G-D's living presence with us. The pastor lights his candle from the Christ candle, and then passes the light to a few others, who then move down the aisles of the sanctuary lighting the candles of the people at the ends of each row of seats who then spread the light to others. In the end, the sanctuary is lit once more with soft candlelight, and we are reminded that we are called to be the light ourselves. The gift we receive is given to be shared. 

Watching online, I could see in a different way the light spread across the room, person to person, flame by flame. I was reminded of something my pastor at home said at the beginning of this advent season. He said that it's important that Christians tell the story of Christmas, a story that isn't about buying things and travel and too many cookies at too many parties. Christmas is a story about light in the darkness, about G-D loving us too much to ever give up or turn his back on us. 

It's been a tough year, I think. A tough year for everyone, all over the world. It's still tough. It is easy to fall prey to despair. Christmas is a story about hope. It's a story about small flames, spread person to person, in little actions and little stories. Nothing dramatic, nothing splashy, hardly ever anything that makes a home page or a headline or twitter feed. It's a story about people who are called to be light in the world, quietly, patiently. Following the humble example of our Emmanuel, G-D with us, who healed and taught through inclusion, mercy, and suffering. We fail so often, but the light is still there.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Enjoy The Moment: Mother Daughter Date

Going out to dinner with my daughter wasn't in my plans this evening. We are hosting a small party at our house tomorrow, and our schedule called for cooking, cleaning and last minute errands. However, around 2pm my daughter announced that she'd like to have a mother daughter date night. She wanted us to go out to dinner at IHOP, just the two of us, without her daddy.

I confess, my first impulse was to say no. I had other things I needed to be doing because we have company coming. I didn't want pancakes for dinner. I was tired and didn't want to drive anywhere. I was irritated because she had been hanging over my shoulder (literally) while I was working on a project for her which made it slower and more difficult. You try using your arms with over 30 pounds of preschooler leaning on one of them.

Fortunately, my brain engaged fully and jerked me up short before I opened my mouth. I realized that there is no need to stress about friends coming over tomorrow. All of my friends are awesome people who will be coming over to enjoy time together, not to judge our decorations, food, or cleanliness. Not to mention that the party is primarily oriented towards children, who will be making a mess in the kitchen decorating Christmas cookies when they aren't making a mess in the rest of the house playing with toys. So it's really pretty silly to get too wrapped up in making the house look perfect. And I'm not all that tired and none of my projects are urgent. Nothing has to be completed this weekend, or even by Christmas. It's all for fun anyway.

More importantly, I realized that there will be a time in my daughter's life when she won't want to go out to dinner with me on a Saturday night. All too soon, I won't be her date of choice. There will be a time that I have to insist on family time and cope with sulks and pouts when I decree a family outing. There will be a time when she has no time to lean on me while I am working on projects because she will have too many projects of her own that need to be done. And after these times there will be a time when she won't be here at all. She will be away at college and then living her own life, and it will be right and good for her to do that. When my daughter was born my mother told me that good parents are always preparing their children to leave them, and I know already that this is true. But when those times come I will miss her terribly.

I'm not a big believer in trying to live a life without regrets. I think it's a trap, because there's no way to know how things are going to turn out. Regrets are always possible, no matter how carefully you think out your choices. Sadness and pain are inevitable in life, and no amount of good decisions will get you out of them. I am a believer in trying to make the best choices I can, based on the best I know at the time the choice comes up and then trying my best to trust G-D with the outcome. Still, there are some things that I know I would eventually regret.

So I'm glad I took my daughter to IHOP tonight, just the two of us. The pancakes weren't bad, and we had fun doing the crossword puzzle on the kids menu together, me spelling the answers and her writing the letters. I'm glad we had a chance to talk about the things she is thinking about with holidays, and wanting another sleepover with her friend, and how she wants to earn some money for the Christmas project the children are doing at church, and a hundred other things we talked about this evening. I'm glad that I slowed down enough to enjoy this moment in her life, this time when she and I can take such delight in each other's company.