Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Welcome to Christmas


“My mother always decorated at least 24 trees in our house,” a woman just ahead of me in line at Wal-Mart said. I glanced at her purchases (don’t you do that?) – a case of Diet Coke, a dozen chocolate chip cookies and a tin of wintergreen Altoids. I was buying cheddar cheese, of course, and red Gatorade.
She told me that she had thrown away her 6-foot artificial Christmas tree and this year would be setting a small, pre-lit, pre-decorated tree on a table and calling it done.  “I just can’t do it,” she said. Frankly, I never could. Twenty-four?! No cats or dogs in that house.
I have so many questions about the holidays. Do we really need Christmas music in November? How many people get a red Lexus for Christmas? (Does the payment book come with it?) Are strands of lights pre-programmed to stop working as soon as you get them untangled? Why do Christmas stockings get bigger every year? Do I need decorations in every room of the house to “feel” Christmas? Why are drivers so aggressive in the parking lots? Why do “nice” people become so vicious at a Black Friday sale? What happens if I can’t find the “perfect” gifts?
Just before Thanksgiving, I went into the mall Hallmark store to buy a birthday card. (My sister has always had poor timing.) The Christmas Storm had hit immediately after Halloween. Every shelf I walked by contained something that responded to my motion. There were talking Santas, Charlie Browns, reindeer and dogs. (Where were the cats?) An entire rack contained nothing but cards that played music or sang when opened. Christmas music – the tacky Chipmunk kind – blared through the speakers.
There seemed to be an infinite number of coffee mugs, most too big or gaudy to be useful, with pictures of the Peanuts gang and cute animals or sayings like “I’ve been a good girl, Santa” and “Talk to me after coffee.” Nothing risqué, of course. (Spencer’s Gifts was a different story and infinitely more interesting.)
When I sat in the food court, the high ceiling twinkled with white lights, hanging from 20 gray tinsel bars and dangling some 15 feet above my head. Huge star-shaped, wreaths – two red and six gold – were hung between the dangling lights. The line to sit on Santa’s lap was long, and several of the toddlers were already breaking down. Am I the only one who doesn’t feel the Christmas spirit in a huge concrete and glass mall?
If you want your house to look like a something out of Better Homes & Gardens, I would love to be invited over to see it. Listen, I think it’s terrific that you send out 200 Christmas cards and include me on your list. But consider this a warning: I will use your Christmas letters as examples in a writing class. No, not as good examples.
Don’t feel sorry for my children; they will have plenty of presents. But for me, this is enough: a fireplace (the fake kind is fine), a small twinkling tree, a cup of hot cocoa or coffee, a few people I love. Playing in the background: “What Child is This?” This, this is Christ the King. Whom shepherds guard and angels sing.
That, I CAN do.


Thursday, December 8, 2011

Conquering Fear



I’d like to make this clear: I hate snakes more than anything in this world. I used to fear them.
I once killed a large snake. It wasn’t poisonous, but it was big and scary looking. It slithered over my then 9-year-old daughter’s bare foot in the backyard and that ticked me off. I grabbed a crow bar and threw it on top of the snake and then started beating it with a hoe. My back muscles tensed up so much that they ached for days. But after that, I felt like I could kill any snake, anytime, anywhere. Facing your fear gives you power.
This is not going to be a blog about divorce. But I have to start with where I am. Other people can tell you what the pain of divorce is like; you can Google it; you can imagine it. Until you are in the middle of it, you really have no idea.
Pain fills you up — not like cool water in a glass but like cement in your soul. Some days it’s so obvious that everyone you meet can see it in your eyes. Other days you just drag it around behind you and hope no one notices.
When you are going through a divorce, some people you’ve known for years start to whisper around you, and others may treat you as if you have something contagious. For the record, I am not crazy, sick, selfish, deranged, naïve, psycho or ignorant. I do not require treatment or intervention and have never been suicidal. I have not ruined my life. I have not lost my sense of humor. I have not abandoned my faith. You do not have to whisper around me.
But it’s not a “rollercoaster of emotions” – it’s a bungee jump. Have you seen how a bungee line violently jerks a person back up? And the veil of depression can drop on you like a full eclipse in the middle of a sunny day. The depression manifests itself physically through the heaviness of your heart, the pain in your stomach and the ache in your head. God knows, it hurts to be in an Intimate War.
Suddenly, life revolves around what’s going to happen to the retirement accounts, investments, bank accounts, couches, cars, crock pots, orthodontist bills, home repairs, utility bills. I cannot overemphasize the stress of dealing with – daily and within a few short weeks – lawyers, accountants, financial advisers, optometrists, psychologists, movers, painters, car dealers, social security employees, teachers, tag agencies, orthodontists, utility companies, physicians, Cox Communications, mortgage companies, insurance agents, bankers and credit card companies.
Paperwork gets screwed up; information is recorded incorrectly; appointments are missed; the wrong amount gets deducted from your checking account; stuff gets broken; important papers get lost in snail mail or cyberspace. You start to feel like you’ve been cut up and irreplaceable pieces of you have blown away. It’s true; in a storm, you can either ride it out or crawl back in bed and hide under the down comforter.
You don’t really know if you can trust anyone, because the Friend Situation takes a while to work out. But at some point, the real ones emerge. They email you prayers or Bible verses. They text you jokes. They call your house phone, your office phone, your cell phone. They stop by your house and insist that you get in the car to go to a movie. They take you for a ride in a new convertible on a starry summer night. They listen. They barge into your office and sit there for hours — because they know that – on that day – you shouldn’t be left alone. They spend Sunday afternoon with you. They schedule after work “booths” and call you if you’re 5 minutes late. They offer to take your kids for a night or two and then love them like their own kids. They tell you that it’s OK to call anytime — and then answer the phone at 3 a.m. They invite you to church. They laugh with you on a Friday night outside of Starbuck’s. They put together your new kitchen table. They give you a ride so you don’t have to go somewhere by yourself. They mount your TV on the stand. They invite you to go shopping. They hug you.
You know things will be get better; everyone says so. You know that this is a beginning, not an ending. The fear of change wells inside you.
So, you can let that snake crawl across your bare toes. Or, you can kill it.