We said goodbye to a friend yesterday. He’s been like one of our boys for a long time and now he’s off on an adventure and so yesterday afternoon after church, like so many Sunday afternoons past, he spent time with us and ate with us and then it was time for him to leave.

IMG_2937¬†We said goodbye and there were tears and jokes because… boys.

Today is Christmas Eve eve and I have things to do. I have a little boy who needs his laundry done and his bag packed, and I bet the rest of us would like some clean socks, too, and I need to run to town for milk and hopefully to hold a little babe and hug her mom for a few minutes, and we’re out of bread so there’s that.

But I’m thinking of a boy and a goodbye and of how things end. They just do.

Even Advent.

There’s a looming goodbye around the corner. A farewell to a season of waiting, resting, and expecting. And beyond, there is a birth and a hello.

And this is the sacrificial sweetness of goodbyes, for without them the hellos would be impossible.

We call it hope.

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I read it this morning in Luke. The thing that happened in those days, and how the shepherds heard about it. The angel showing up in the middle of the night in the middle of the field in the middle of all those sheep and the glory of the Lord shining around them, and the multitude of angels appearing with their praise and glorifying, and the shepherds were afraid. No kidding.

Not too afraid, though.

Not too afraid to pack up and go see the thing that had happened.

Not too afraid to make haste, or to share with the stable dwellers the message of the angels, or to return to their real lives, glorifying and praising.

I’m afraid, often, of the glory things.

I don’t want to be too afraid, though. Advent is a new baby, a new hope, and the ushering in of a new year. A year to go and to see and to praise and to glorify.

Amen.

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It’s that nagging feeling I have, that I haven’t done enough. The list of all I didn’t do is by far the longest. It would be easy to define the season by that, and feel less because of it.

I didn’t bake those cookies to give away. I didn’t get that wonderful package of goodies together for the bus driver or the school staff. I didn’t make special Christmas ornaments or decorate a Joshua Tree or light Advent candles. Honestly, I haven’t even read the Christmas story. Not once. Not to the kids and not to myself.

Boo, me.

I could redeem myself a little by telling you I’d spent the time really being present with my family, or taking long walks, or meditating, or planning the Christmas dinner menu. But none of that is true, either. Not really. I haven’t been intentional about much of anything, this Advent season.

Truth is, I’ve kind of crashed this month. Not in a depressed or overwhelmed or dog-tired kind of way, although, can I just say menopause and leave it at that.

I’ve thought about Advent. I’ve baked butter tarts and made cups of hot chocolate and listened to Christmas music in the bathtub, and we watched Elf together one night.

And I have had some sweet moments with my kids and my husband, it’s true. But mostly, it just happened. I didn’t plan anything very special. I’ve just lived through the month, doing the ordinary business of home life, and thinking a bit, reading a bit, writing a bit, and resting a bit.

Maybe, for this year, it’s enough.

Maybe I don’t feel so bad about it, after all.

I have a middle son, and of all my children he is the most like me, I think. He loves to read and think and process and talk about all the things he reads and thinks and processes.

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On Sunday last, my middle son and I were tourists. He is an incredible fan of history, religious history in particular (at the moment), and he’d been wanting to go to Catholic mass for quite a while. We live in a French/English community, and so finding a workable time to attend English mass had taken some time, but on Sunday morning at 9:00 we were sitting in a pew at the Cathedral, waiting for the service to begin.

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It’s a beautiful building. My son knows its history and the architectural style and that there are other churches in Europe designed by the same architect and they are the spitting image of the one in our little town. He’s studied Catholicism and he knew the priest would be wearing a purple robe because of Advent, and he whispered bits of history and tradition to me throughout the morning.

There was a little man sitting a few rows ahead and to our left, and he was our guide. He was the first to stand or kneel or sit, the first to step into the aisle when it was time to do so, the first to come and shake our hands and offer a peace be with you when it was time to shake hands and offer peace. We watched him and followed his lead, like the tourists we were, and I unobtrusively snapped a few pictures because… tourists.

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I feel like a tourist at Advent. It’s not a familiar experience; we didn’t observe it when I was growing up, but it’s a place I want to see, a journey I want to take. So I read the books and blogs to see how others do it, and I follow the leads of those ahead of me and to my left, the one’s who know what they are doing and for whom it’s all second nature.

I snap a few pictures along the way.

And like a tourist, I find the things that connect me to the experience. Being pregnant. Anticipating a child. Giving birth.

I’m a tourist at Advent, trying to act like I know when to stand or sit or kneel, and I’m stumbling a bit, but the view is still wonderful.

Some people like to take the mystery out of things. They analyze and quantify and theorize and this is great for some things, but not for others.

Some things are meant to be just plain wonderful. Like babies.

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Is there anything more incredibly delicious than a ripe momma on the last legs of her pregnancy? Waiting, anticipating, consumed already with love for the tiny thing she hasn’t yet seen. Wondering what he will look like. Will he have daddy’s eyes or grandma’s nose? Will she be whole and healthy and will she nurse okay and sleep okay and grow up okay?

I remember my first look at my first boy, the first time I saw him outside me, and honestly, there are no words. I can promise you I wasn’t thinking about anything except how absolutely amazing he was. How perfect and beautiful and pink and even as my husband was severing the cord between my son and me, my heart was fusing a new and stronger bond.

Every baby should be born into the arms of loving parents, and have lots to eat and warm clothes to wear and to be cared for with wisdom and tenderness. Every baby should have this but they don’t.

I have a little boy living under my roof. A sweet young thing not born to me, and this year he can’t go home to his mom’s for Christmas. For the first time in his life, he won’t be waking up in her home on Christmas morning or finding his presents under her tree. This is hard. It’s hard for him and it’s hard for me and I’m more than sure it’s hard for her.

It’s an awkward triangle we form, two moms and a boy, and it leaves us all pointy angles at times. Trying to make something work in a way it wasn’t meant to is never easy.

An awkward triangle, imperfect and perhaps hopeless but for grace.

This is the beauty of Advent in my heart today. Amazing grace, carried to earth in baby form, that smooths sharp angles and sweetens the bitter taste of disappointment. Grace that makes beauty of our messes.

Because Lord knows I make enough of them.

Praying grace covers all of us today, dear friends.

It’s hard to measure a lot of things. How do you measure love or pain or silliness or the power of a smile or the strength of friendship? Not easily, I can tell you.

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It’s like this with births and beginnings, too. How do you measure such things?

The birth of the world. The birth of an idea. The birth of a child.

A few days ago a friend brought her new baby home. A baby much longed for, much prayed for, long waited for. I’m thinking it’s hard to identify exactly when her precious baby was begun. The first hopeful tear? The first prayer? The blue line? The first labour pain? The push, or the catch, or the latch?

Beginnings are like that. They are eternal, an unknowable moment stretched into a story, and conception and pregnancy and delivery are a part but they are not the whole.

This season of Advent, this pregnant season of hope and hush, is part of the story, too. But it is not the whole. The story is eternal, and who can say when the beginning began, really?

You have a disciple, I say to my husband over breakfast this morning.

IMG_2776He and the boy are going out hunting, and the bacon and eggs are getting them ready for the cold outside. We’ve been breakfasting and chatting and the words out of the boy’s mouth are the man’s – my husband and I hear it clear – and that’s when I say it.

You have a disciple.

Fathers, you need to know this about your children.

You need to know how closely they watch and how intently they listen and how carefully they follow. You are the Joseph in somebody’s childhood. The master in his apprenticeship. The mother-loving, child-protecting, temple-visiting presence in her life.

This Advent season, with all the birthing and pregnancy and baby talk, I hope you know it’s not just about the mothers.

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If you have children, be a Father. Be the example you need to be to the disciples you might not realize are following you.