a december to remember

Yes, I’m cribbing Lexus’ slogan, because seriously, I don’t know ANYONE who gets cars as Christmas presents (though, Santa, if you’re reading, you know where my driveway is).

Last December was one of the worst months of our lives. I got the flu. Not the “flu” but the actual want to die, 8 days of 102 fever, entire month of sickness, influenza. The kind some people actually die from. (Side note: GET A FLU SHOT.) For weeks, I existed in a sweaty, shivery, coughing, bruised ribs, fluid in my lungs, drugged on codeine haze. Jon was working nights and spending his days dosing me, feeding me, helping me use the bathroom without fainting, and trying to catch some sleep in there too. It’s good to be married to an ER doc when you’re deathly ill, as he took great care of me. He admitted that a few times I looked so bad he thought about taking me to the hospital, but knew they’d pretty much just be doing for me what he was already doing– fluids, NSAIDs, cough meds, Mucinex. In retrospect, I might have needed a chest x-ray, but we survived. (My ribs were sore for a month afterward from all the coughing.)

Little did we know that Jon would be the one to wind up in the ER. One day, when I was finally starting to feel like I might be able to leave the house again, I got a text message from Jon saying that if I was up, he was now a patient in the ER where he had been working, and could I come there, please? He was having a weird heart beat and mentioned it to another doc he was working with, who checked him out, hooked him up to some monitors, and realized he was in atrial fibrillation. Basically, the top chambers of his heart were fluttering around instead of beating in a steady rhythm. Ultimately, it took an overnight stay in the ICU (where I tried desperately not to cough around any of the nurses, because I didn’t want to be kicked out of the unit), where he was the most lucid patient I think those nurses have ever treated, and some hardcore meds to get his heart back into a normal rhythm (they call this “converting” if you want to know some new medical speak). He was mere hours from being shocked with the paddles when the meds finally did their job. We got to look at his heart on the echo, which was pretty cool, to see the heart of the one I love, beating on a screen, but they didn’t establish what caused the a-fib episode. I have a feeling it was the exhaustion of working and taking care of a very sick wife. He hasn’t had an episode since.

Still, as a result, our December last year? While it was one to remember, it was also a pretty sucky one. I’m counting this year as a do-over. I got my flu shot, I’ve been washing my hands like a maniac, and if someone sniffles around me, I’m moving across the room. I’m pregnant, but I’m feeling good. My birthday and hopefully the Baby B gender reveal are coming up on the 16th. I’m looking forward to spending Christmas with my family and New Year’s in Colorado with Jon’s, and we’re determined to be healthy for all of it. Now I just have to figure how to decorate our house in a way that won’t immediately be destroyed by the wild and crazy Tinycat.

thanksgiving is better than christmas

Image by Gary Villet via the Google LIFE photo archive, under a Creative Commons license.

Every year Bill O’Reilly goes to war against those he believes are “at war against Christmas.” You know what I’m talking about– he, and a lot of others, get really irritated that greeters at WalMart and cashiers at the mall say things like “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” preferably with the emphasis on CHRISTmas.  As if there aren’t other people in this country celebrating other holidays at that time.  But what really galls me is, O’Reilly is entirely missing the point. The problem isn’t WalMart greeters and mall cashiers, it’s WalMart and the mall.  Christmas has become a disgusting celebration of consumerism.

According to Advent Conspiracy, Americans spend around $450 BILLION on Christmas each year. According to Bread for the World, the basic health and nutrition needs of the world’s poorest people could be solved for $13 billion per year. There’s just something stomach churning about using a holiday to celebrate the birth of a king who was born in poverty and preached about concern for the poor more than any other issue being used to fuel a $450 billion industry when a tiny fraction of that could feed and care for the world’s poorest people.

And of course, I sit here typing this as a total hypocrite.  I’ve tried to convince our families to do without gifts, in order to focus on time together and giving to charity, and yet so far, all I’ve been able to do is encourage caps on gift spending, hopefully leaving us with more money to give to charity.  So, in large part, most of the hoopla surrounding Christmas seems to me to be at war with the values of the man it celebrates, and yet I feel powerless to stop it.

So instead, I focus on Thanksgiving.  I think sharing meals was a pretty common theme in the life of Jesus, and I believe something special happens when we gather around a table with people, even our dysfunctional families.  I also think gratitude is a key component of a truly examined life.  In some ways, I think Thanksgiving is a more truly spiritual holiday than Christmas, in terms of how we celebrate it in this country– it’s about spending time with family, sharing a meal, and being thankful.  Sure, it can be taken to gluttonous extremes, but it can also be a beautiful celebration.  And maybe if we do it right, if we really take time to be thankful and realize we have all we need, that we are truly blessed, we will be able to keep our priorities in order when it comes to celebrating Christmas.  I can only hope.



Note: I am, of course, aware that Thanksgiving, like almost everything in the history of Western Civilization, has a backstory full of violence, bigotry, theft, and oppression.  I hope that by reclaiming that holiday as one of gratitude and love, and perhaps even sorrow for what happened in the past, we can try to make sure such things don’t happen in the future.

favored son

I’ve thought since the first time I brought him home that my family liked my husband more than they like me.  My mom is a feeder, loves to cook for people, and for the first time she had a BOY to feed and feed and feed.  He’s not picky, he has a ginormous appetite, and happily goes back for seconds.  And don’t even get me started on how he wowed all the women in the family by doing the dishes the first time we had him around for Thanksgiving.  And my dad? Well, much as he adores his three girls, it’s been adorable to see him with a son for the first time, geeking out about doctor stuff, playing ping pong for hours, working on projects around the house. Even my littlest sister thinks he rocks, because he’ll jump on the trampoline with her.  So you might see how I’d get the idea that he’s everyone’s favorite.  But now I have actual proof.

For Christmas this year, my Memaw gave everyone money and mittens.  My dad got $50. My mom got $50. My sister got $50. I got $50.

My husband?

He got $100.

The rest of us maintain that two $50 bills simply got stuck together, that it’s some sort of error. My husband maintains that Memaw simply likes him more than us.

i’m not a heathen or a pagan, but i’m for the rebel Jesus

I know I’ve been mostly absent from the blog, and that’s likely to continue, as we’re splitting our Christmas time in Arkansas and Colorado, and I don’t have much internet access beyond what I can get on my BlackBerry, provided it’s working properly (maybe Santa will bring RIM some better infrastructure).  Anyway, we were in a restaurant the other day and I caught the tail end of a Christmas song I’d never heard before. The only line I heard was something about “a heathen and a pagan on the side of the rebel Jesus.”  So, thanks to Google, I’ve now found and fallen in love with this song by Jackson Browne. Consider it my Christmas card to you, Internets.

All the streets are filled with laughter and light
And the music of the season
And the merchants’ windows are all bright
With the faces of the children
And the families hurrying to their homes
While the sky darkens and freezes
Will be gathering around the hearths and tables
Giving thanks for God’s graces
And the birth of the rebel Jesus

Well they call him by ‘the Prince of Peace’
And they call him by ‘the Savior’
And they pray to him upon the seas
And in every bold endeavor
And they fill his churches with their pride and gold
As their faith in him increases
But they’ve turned the nature that I worship in
From a temple to a robber’s den
In the words of the rebel Jesus

Well we guard our world with locks and guns
And we guard our fine possessions
And once a year when Christmas comes
We give to our relations
And perhaps we give a little to the poor
If the generosity should seize us
But if any one of us should interfere
In the business of why there are poor
They get the same as the rebel Jesus

Now pardon me if I have seemed
To take the tone of judgement
For I’ve no wish to come between
This day and your enjoyment
In a life of hardship and of earthly toil
There’s a need for anything that frees us
So I bid you pleasure
And I bid you cheer
From a heathen and a pagan
On the side of the rebel Jesus

I wish you all joy and happiness, whatever you’re celebrating this time of year, from someone who is neither a heathen (well, that depends on who you ask, I guess) nor a pagan, but a fan of the rebel Jesus.

the best Christmas present ever?

Image via Flickr user Muffet under a Creative Commons License.

I swear I’m not a Grinch.

Yeah, this is another one of those posts where I have to begin with a disclaimer assuring my readers that I really, really don’t hate Christmas. Here are some things I’m looking forward to over the next month: baking cookies with my mom and little sister, spending time with my littlest sister, drinking Russian Tea, staring at Christmas trees in dark rooms, taking a trip to downtown Hot Springs AR in order to see Christmas lights and a giant gingerbread house, the local prosthetic shop that has the best Christmas window displays ever, reading “The Gift of the Magi” and “Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” nativity sets, advent wreaths, making gingerbread houses that involve hot glue guns, playing board games with family, seeing our niece, meeting a brand new baby cousin, watching “Elf,” Christmas Eve church service, seeing some snow in Colorado, watching my dad tear up while watching “It’s a Wonderful Life,” having semi-shouted conversations with my hard-of-hearing grandmother, hugging necks, and kissing cheeks.  There is a lot to love about Christmas.

You may notice that I didn’t mention gifts anywhere in that list.  Because when I start to think about all the things that make Christmas special to me, most of them are free.  They are not about things. They are about love.  And yet, every single year, starting around Halloween, loved ones start demanding wish lists, the expectation to buy Things begins to mount, and I begin to get overwhelmed and stressed and wonder why we’re really doing all this.  My dad loves to say that Jesus is the Reason for the Season (I swear he’s not one of those types to get worked up about the “War on Christmas,” he just really likes to remind us, Tiny Tim style, what it’s all about), and yet, as I venture out into stores, I don’t see Jesus anywhere, and not just because the greeters say “Happy Holidays,” because really, only jerks have a problem with that.

Just getting out to holiday shop is stressful, the opposite of peace and joy and goodwill to all people.  Drivers act like jerks, everyone’s in a hurry, stores are crowded and clerks are testy.  Money is tight, no one knows what they want, we don’t know what to buy, and yet we feel pressured to buy buy buy, give give give.

And it’s not that I don’t love giving a thoughtful gift. I do. I’ve been known to agonize over birthday gifts, and I really do enjoy giving them, mostly because with birthdays I only have to focus on one present and can make it something really special and thoughtful and expressive of love and care.  But Christmas really just becomes overwhelming– no one has the time to buy unique and special thoughtful gifts for every single person on their list, at least, no one I know does. And so even people like me, otherwise completely committed to buying local and fair trade, end up hitting outlet malls and completely forsaking our values in order to get gifts for everyone we’re expected to buy for.

And so I’m left wondering why we do it.  Just getting to spend time with family and loved ones is a gift, a huge one.  We don’t need any THING beyond that.  Why can’t we just celebrate that we have time together, that we have so many blessings, that we are not in need? If we weren’t pressured to buy buy buy, give give give, we could give to charity and then just enjoy each other’s company.

I’ve tried for two years now to convince the rest of my family of my vision of a gift-free Christmas. It hasn’t worked.  So I’ve made a decision.  Next Halloween I’m going to make an announcement.  I’m going to say: Dear family members, I love you so very much.   I love Christmas, and I love celebrating Jesus’ birth with you.  Because of my deep love for Christmas and all that it means, we will not be participating in gifts for anyone who is not a child.  We hope to focus on spending time together, making memories, and donating time and money to charity.  We hope that you will respect this decision, and encourage you to join us in our pursuit of a pared-down but more deeply meaningful holiday, though we will respect and love your choice if you don’t. We love you and we want to focus on our love for each other and our love for Christ this year.

I’m getting excited just thinking about it. Perhaps a gift-free Christmas could be the second-best Christmas present ever.

nightmares before Christmas

image via Flickr user daveynin

I promise I’m not a Grinch. Sure, sure, there were years that I didn’t allow people around me to decorate for Christmas until after December 16, my birthday, because I didn’t want Christmas stealing my thunder, but my mother really started that tradition, so you can hardly blame me for enforcing it.  I love putting up a Christmas tree.  I spent hours and hours and hours crafting ornaments out of origami last year.  I hung up our stockings on Sunday and now can’t stop staring at them. I get excited when eggnog shows up in stores, and I love a chance to make our family’s holiday staple, Russian Tea.  And I love Christmas music. Well, most of it.

Sure, there are some weird Christmas songs, including my sister’s favorite, “I want a hippopotamus for Christmas.” But one Christmas song is downright awful.  I go out of my way NOT to hear it. I’d probably run screaming out of a store in the midst of holiday shopping if it came on over the loudspeaker. In fact, just this morning as I drove Jon and myself to work, it started playing on the radio and I started yelling, “TURN IT OFF! TURN IT OFF RIGHT NOW!” I’m pretty sure this song makes little 7 pound 8 ounce baby Jesus cry.  And we all know, “little Lord Jesus no crying he makes.” He cries when he hears this song, I’m sure of it. I know I sure do. And crying is really not what I want to do at Christmas, though it usually happens at some point, what with the family dysfunction and all.

This horrible song? You want to know what it is? Ok…

It’s “The Christmas Shoes.”  According to Wikipedia, The Christmas Shoes started out as an internet story (aka an email forward), and was adapted into a novel, a song, and a film starring that lady from Father of the Bride and Rob Lowe.  I guess the story is sweet enough, if you like a side of sobbing with your Christmas spirit, but it’s about a little poor boy trying to buy his dying mother a pair of shoes for Christmas.  One line that keeps getting repeated is “I want her to look beautiful if Mama meets Jesus tonight.”  The only “meeting Jesus” I want to think about at Christmas is Shepherds and Wise Men meeting BABY Jesus. Not dead people meeting full-grown Jesus.  I’d rather hear the entire Chipmunks Christmas album on repeat for 24 hours straight than listen to the world’s saddest Christmas song even once.  This is why I’m not, under any circumstances, putting a YouTube video of this song on this post. Look it up at your own risk, and have some tissues handy.

But apparently some folks like their Christmas cheer to be tinged with depression and sadness and guilt. Just check out Glenn Beck’s latest bestseller, a Christmas book called “The Christmas Sweater” about a little boy whose mother DIES IN A FIERY CAR WRECK because the selfish little bastard doesn’t appreciate his hand-knit Christmas sweater.  Man, imagine reading that one to your kids on Christmas Eve. YOU BETTER BE GRATEFUL, KIDS, OR MOMMY WILL DIEEEEEEE.  Might as well play them “The Christmas Shoes” as a post-bedtime-story lullaby, then wait and see if the little brats dream of visions of sugar plums or wake up screaming in the night. “The Nightmare before Christmas” is less scary and more uplifting than Beck’s storybook or the world’s worst Christmas song.