(The real reason) Why I am So Excited About Christmas

This is the first year I can say, with 100% honesty, that I am not excited about Christmas presents.

But I am excited. I’m up at 5 am with a tinsel-tinted adrenaline rush, and I feel like I should explain why.

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I’m excited for a big family breakfast. For cheesy Christmas specials on DVD. For rum and eggnog at 12:00 sharp.  I’m all warm and fuzzy about the fact the family dog is sharing my makeshift mattress on mom’s office floor and that’s cool, puppy, my feet can hang off the bed. Really.

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Really, really.
I can’t wait to see little Mikey’s new haircut with bedhead. I will probably force a selfie upon him, if it’s particularly magnificent. And my father will probably photobomb it, because he’s hyped. We’re all hyped. We’re buzzing with the unspoken amazement that this year, finally, we’re all happy and healthy for the holidays.

Finally.   

I’m excited for the tacky, blurry photo evidence.

I’m excited about the snow, now that it’s not threatening my commute home.  About a real day off.  About my new discovery that singing a loud, off-key version of “Wrecking Ball” on my ukelele can pretty much persuade my brothers to do anything I want because “SHAUNA. STOP. PLEASE.” 

I’m excited for the beautiful weirdness of love looking like a family sitting around a souped-up tree.  I look forward to trading symbols of “I CARE ABOUT YOU AND YOUR INTERESTS,” I suppose. But that’s all they are. They’re symbols this year, and not particularly necessary ones. They’re excuses to hug people and to appreciate people, and that’s all. That’s all.

I’m excited for the hugs, too.

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Snapshot from the train ride home.

I don’t have too many expectations for Christmas 2013. I’m sure our poorly-mixed drinks will spill, often. People will disappear for naps, cutting well-intended board games off prematurely. There will be chipped nail polish, CDs that skip, and burnt food (because our oven is a menace). The zoo that is our family home–four kids, one dog, two hamsters, a bird, a snake, and an open door policy–will need tending to.

And, as always, I’m going suggest that we read the biblical version of the Christmas story.  And everyone is going to agree that this is an okay idea, I guess, but it’s not going to happen because we’re a little busy laughing right now.

And that’s okay, too, because we’ll write our own version.

We will tell it through awful puns and funny faces, through unseemly snapshots and battle cries of “YOU’RE SO ANNOYING” and “THAT’S SO AWESOME.” It’s the story about what happens when perfect love pays a visit to an imperfect world, and we’ll tell it. We always do. 

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And that is what I’m excited for this year. 

Merry Christmas, everyone!

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Letting God Laugh at Us (is probably a good idea)

“If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans”
– Woody Allen

I started teaching Sunday School this year. A group of 5 or 6 wonderful, wonderful wide-eyed girls (age 7 to 12) stare expectantly at me in our small church clubhouse, every week. Every. Week.

I don’t know why they’re all girls. It just worked out that way. Since my siblings are all capital-D Dudes, this is definitely new territory.

For better or for worse, I can be a wishy washy teacher. I know it, and so do the parents. I’m a goofy, guitar-strumming, United-Churchy-Half-Agnostic-Historian-Jesus-Feminist, so honesty and nuance rule the day: I can teach biblical literacy. I can teach general values. But, no, I don’t know what exactly really happened, or what exactly we’re supposed to get out of these stories. I have no indoctrination-esque end goal, not really. I just teach what I understand, whatever that means. And maybe the girls will be inspired and Jesus it up and light a candle. Or maybe, they will raise their hands and shout “Shauna, that’s craziness.”

As long as they’re using their minds and their hearts at all times, it works for me.

And so it goes: Insert life lesson here. Insert scripture here. We make thank you cards. We celebrate holidays (and normal days, too). We laugh and we read and we use way too much glitter. Money is raised for charity. Songs are written.

And sometimes the lesson doesn’t quite work. Sometimes there’s apathy, or chaos, or I am overshadowed by the air hockey table. (Why is there an air hockey table, you ask? I don’t even know. Because Canada.)

“Okay girls, I’m going to turn away from you for 10 seconds. When I turn back I want to see you all sitting calmly on the couches. 1…2…”

Last week, we were starting the Christmas story. Yeah. I was worried. The whole “Mary” narrative is a difficult subject for a United-Churchy-Half-Agnostic-Historian-Jesus-Feminist (who really doesn’t want to explain the word “virgin” to your 8 year old). My carefully-crafted plan was to talk about how our plans and goals are good, but God is great—basically, it was this article steeped in Bible-talk.

Yeah, my plan was to talk about how shaky plans are. I’m an irony whiz, clearly.

I pulled out the markers and paper, suggesting that the girls draw pictures of their lives 20 years from now. They took to the project immediately, drawing themselves as Olympians, doctors, zoologists, geologists, rebel graffiti artists… the works. Some of them were very careful, drafting their dreams in pencil first. One was hyper-detailed and ambitious, another was just plain goofy. By the time I was ready to explain the point of the exercise, they were too excited by their dreams to really care about my message. I wrapped it up quickly:

“You guys get what I’m saying, right? No? Yes? Good. Okay.”

My plan hadn’t really worked. Their plans were strewn around the classroom in bright, goofy marker.

And somehow, it was all perfect anyways.

“If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.”  I used to see these words as an invitation to avoid plans altogether.  But as I felt my classroom shake with the joy of best laid possibilities, I reconsidered.  

What’s wrong with making God laugh, exactly?  

God probably likes to laugh. Laughter is good. Silliness and vulnerability and hope are good.  

Plans are not bad in and of themselves. They’re actually kind of beautiful. Those dream-fueled drawings in my Sunday School classroom were beautiful.  Same with the laid-back, loving lesson plans. Same with your fallible to do list, daydreams, and drive for the future.

Plans happen when our gifts and dreams and brainwaves and feelings manifest into a motivational timeline. And when those plans don’t totally come to fruition, that doesn’t mean they were wrong. It just means something else became right.  It means that life is beautiful in a very different way than plans are beautiful. 

If you can be idealistic enough to plan something, but reasonable enough to not be debilitated by disappointment when that plan doesn’t work out, then do it. Do it. And then change it.  And then change it again.

For my part, I’m going to continue making and breaking lesson plans. The girls are probably going to keep dreaming and suggesting.  We’re all going to keep changing. And that’s okay. That’s okay.

We’re just making God laugh. I’m sure (S)He doesn’t mind.

 

On Fear, Love, and Bombs in Boston.

“A bomb just went off at the Boston Marathon, guys.”

My boss shared the news as he passed through the office. To be honest, I thought it was just another gnarly music term.  A strange band name.  A performance that…bombed?  Or was “the bomb”?  Or something else that I’m just not hip enough to get?

I work in the music industry, see.  I didn’t think there was a show going down in Boston, but figured that someone bringing up a new band was a lot more likely than an actual bomb going off at the Boston Marathon.

I was wrong.

It didn’t take long to figure out what happened. I streamed the live coverage as my mind combed through the usual comforts: Pay attention to the helpers.  Thank goodness this isn’t government-sponsored violence.  Look at those service men and women helping to clear the streets.  I’m glad stuff like this is rare enough to demand such outrage.  #PrayforBoston is trending on twitter.  The love outweighs the hate.  The extreme response shows how safe we normally are.

And, most selfishly (but genuinely): Glad I don’t know anyone in Boston. 

Optimistic, yes, but none of this was particularly comforting at the time.  Although my immediate reaction was overwhelming uncertainty (“How do I emotionally respond to this?”), a quick Google search of Washington DC brought it closer to home.  Sirens and SWAT teams were screaming down the streets, or so Twitter hyperbolically reported.  Pennsylvania Avenue was shut down. I had my first run in with the term “Heightened Terror Alert.”  It was business as usual in my office, but the word “Terror” tends to evoke…well, the feeling of terror.  There was “standard procedure” going on a few blocks away. In the wake of a bombing, “standard procedure” in the capital can look a little frightening.

DC in general has been a little frightening, at least for me.  The threats from North Korea successfully increased my heart rate on more than one occasion last month. I walked past a policeman carrying a massive gun today, and sped up in spite of myself.  I’m still getting used to the intensity of security guards on the way into museums.  The obvious necessity and fragility of a defense presence makes my stomach turn—especially when it’s not always enough to keep people safe.

Perhaps my background is a bit too docile to keep up with the high-security scene.  I watch action movies and kick-ass Terantino flicks like it’s my job, but the reality is that I’ve never even touched a glitter bomb.  I’ve never so much as shot a paintball gun.  I jump at the word “BOO!”, you guys. If we watch a horror movie together, I will clutch onto you like a leech.  And violence—real violence—is disturbing foreign territory to me.  (I’m very lucky for this, I know.)

It’s surprising that, spooked little horse that I am, I responded to the Boston Marathon Bombings with so much resolve.  But I did.  A lot of us did.  We said a prayer, called our mothers, and kept on going.

At dinner last night, a friend shared how scared she was coming home from work.  The bombing brutality was tumbling through her brain, and the enclosed and busy Metro was cause for concern.  Fair enough, I figured.  But that wasn’t what I said. Instead, like an overzealous talk-show host, I found myself telling her “I feel you, but…we can’t let the terror to get the best of us.  Because if it does, then “they” win. And “they” can’t win. People who want to hurt other people can’t win.  Fear can’t win.”

I’m sure I was much less articulate, but that was the sentiment.  My friends, despite our usual political and ideological differences, nodded in rare approval. She agreed, too. You can’t psychologically torture a whole country, can you?  Let’s not make it so easy.

Events like the Boston Marathon bombings will undoubtedly disrupt our ideas of humanity, life, security, and business-as-usual.  The intense response here in DC reminded me that while this country (and its cities) are magnificent, even they are vulnerable–because everything and everyone is vulnerable, no matter what.

My raised-by-Disney heart fears the “bad guys” and cheers for “good guys.”  It always will. But my adult heart, ridden with reality-checks, is beating in time with the rest of the so-called “normal people.”  The scared but proud people—people with good sides, and with not-so-good sides, but with families and fates and feeling hearts.  Folks who are mostly not okay with people hurting other people.

The fact that this is my definition of “normal” gives me hope. The fact that this bombing does not seem “normal” gives me hope.

We are fragile, mortal, reactive, aware, sensitive—but we should not be afraid.