Oh, this time of year. When the traffic goes crazy, and a ten-minute errand takes an hour. Our calendars grow full and our wallets empty. All the rush-rush-rush. To parties. And concerts. And holiday events. Stack on top of that our self-imposed traditions: Tree cutting; putting up our own and admiring others’ Christmas lights; pictures with Santa; cookie baking and decorating (and eating); equally divided time between families; and the gift buying, and wrapping, and returning. Are you feeling the peace? No?
Why do we do this to ourselves then? What is it that we chase so restlessly every December?
Here’s what I think:
We yearn for the connection that comes from soft conversation with a few friends who stayed to help clean the kitchen after the party. We yearn for the peace we feel when we stop to watch silent snowflakes shimmer in the glow of twinkly lights. We yearn for the moment the light falls just right through the stained-glass windows as choirs sing about a holy night. We yearn for the quiet reflection that comes with that moment. We yearn for assured hope. The tug in our spirits. The Divine.
And we rush, because we fear that missing this event, or the next, means we will miss out on the single opportunity to connect with Divinity. And that we’ll have to wait another year before can try again. And in our frantic pursuit for meaning, we miss the whole entire point.
That a baby was born. Who would grow up to become a servant king, who sacrificed himself to forever restore humanity’s connection to His Father. We don’t have to wait for December, for tinsel, and choirs, and just-so lighting. Daily we can experience the community. The quiet reflection. The peace. The Divine.
Because of a Baby that was born.
When we first moved to the USA, we had visas that came with tight restrictions. My husband was only allowed to work for the company that sponsored his visa and I was not allowed to work at all. We were very careful to stay within the parameters of our visas, not wanting to do anything that could possibly hinder our road to citizenship, or result in exportation.
Later, when a small private school was willing to sponsor my work visa, procedures took longer than expected. The school year was about to start and my visa was still months away. I volunteered for the first few of months, receiving no compensation for my work in order to stay within the law and not jeopardize our naturalization process.
Three years later, when we received our Green Cards, we felt that we could breathe easier. Our stay wasn’t dependent on one company’s whim. We were able to change jobs when necessary and we had the freedom to stay here indefinitely. But there were still certain privileges we didn’t have.
In 2008 we became naturalized citizens of the United States of America. We checked in our previous citizenship and received US citizenship, along with all the privileges, freedoms and responsibilities tied to it. Citizenship is a loaded word! It implies security and protection. It means I have a voice and a vote – and responsibility in how I use my voice. I have shared interest in local and national government.
But mostly. I belong. I am home. I am not just a “renter” or temporary resident, but I am co-owner. I have interest here. The US have made an investment in me and vice versa.
Sometimes, when we think about God’s Kingdom, we live like temporary residents on a restrictive visa. Like we have to be so very careful not to mess things up. Like we can be kicked out at the slightest wrong-doing.
In Philippians 3:20 Paul writes: “But we are citizens of Heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives.” Paul reminds us that when we are in Christ, we are citizens of Heaven. Through grace we have traded in our worldly passports for Heavenly citizenship and we are privy to all the privileges, freedom, security and responsibility this Heavenly citizenship affords. We can put down roots. We are home.
The first time I heard of Notre Dame, was in high school Art History class. We studied the cathedral as an example of Gothic architecture and we memorized terminology and floor-plans. We learned of cross-vaults and flying buttresses. But there was something else: The light in our teacher’s eyes. The awe in her voice as she described centuries of craftsmanship. Her gravitas as she tried to open our self-absorbed teenage eyes to the existence of something so much bigger, and grander, and more significant than anything we would have encountered at that age. Learning about this building ignited my imagination. The thought that places like those were not just for movies or books, but actually existed, launched grand dreams within me.
The first time I visited Notre Dame was on a cold, rainy December morning in 2014. Like almost every other tourist in Paris that day, we were desperate to get out of the freezing drizzle. With scarcely enough time to glimpse at the apostles guarding the entrances, I was carried into the cathedral along with a wave of other people. It was not at all the kind of visit I had imagined. The side-aisles were crammed with moving bodies, silently shuffling along in a dim gloom. Nervous to keep my young children in sight, and pick-pockets at bay (the carnal amid the sublime), I could only sneak quick peeks, or quietly point my children’s attention to the rose windows.
Just before the throng carried me out the doors, I stepped between the rows of pews. My husband, who instinctively understood the gravity that moment held for me, took the kids and whispered, “We’ll meet you outside.” For a brief second, I allowed my gaze to travel up the tapering columns, letting them fulfill their purpose. They drew my eyes, and my heart, past the crisscross vaults and decorative ceiling, heavenward. For perhaps two deep breaths, I beheld the worship offered by craftsmen centuries ago. And added my own. For a breath or two more, this travel-weary sojourner found peace.
The next time I saw Notre Dame, was on a bright blue, summer morning in August 2017. Once again, we were making the most of a long layover, exploring the parts of Paris we hadn’t visited the first time around. Notre Dame was not on our itinerary, as we had seen it the previous time, but we happened to walk past it on our way to catch our water-taxi on the Seine. I asked my family to slow down, to spend some time taking in all we missed that rainy December day. We talked about flying buttresses and structure. I admired tarnished bronze kings who climbed towards the tall spire and the delicate lace that trimmed the roof line. The Lady shimmered pure and white in the early morning sunshine, showing off amid vivid green and white gardens.
All throughout that morning in Paris, as we traveled along the Seine, or walked Paris’ streets, Notre Dame spires and towers were comforting beacons. She was a guide to navigate our way back home.
I wonder, in all the centuries you have graced the earth with your beauty, how many dreamers did you inspire? To how many travel-worn pilgrims did you provide sanctuary? How many lost and lonely did you lead back Home?
This often-lost traveler and dreamer thank you.
‘Till we see you again,
When I was a little girl, my mom taught me to sew. She taught me to thread the needle. She showed me to fold and pin the seams. She guided my unpracticed fingers to weave the needle in and out of the fabric to leave a neat row of tiny stitches. If I forgot to hold the short end of the thread and it slipped through the eye of the needle for the umpteenth time to lie limply on the fabric, she helped me pick up and start again. She taught me about tension. And later, sewing machines. And ripping out when those stitches were wrong, or crooked, or messy. Man, did she teach me about ripping out!
While she was sewing grand outfits for her friends, or light summer dresses for me, I made little pillows from her fabric scraps. I embellished them with her cut-off pieces of ribbon and lace. I stuffed them with cotton wool from her medicine cabinet and spritzed them with perfume from her vanity. Carefully, I wrapped them in gift wrap from her closet. And then I ceremoniously gifted them to her. Small gifts from her great gift.
Creating is like that.
The talent and passion were placed in us by a loving Creator. The opportunities, education, and connections orchestrated by the One who provides according to our needs. When we mess up, or get stuck, or stumble, He is the Loving Father who helps us pick up and start again. And when we persevere, and edit, and finish, and offer Him our final product, it is a small gift to the Giver of great gifts.
Somewhere in my mother’s dresser, there is still a lopsided little pillow. The fragrance of the perfume long gone. The stitches crooked and uneven. The ribbon a touch too short and the insides creeping out where the seams were not properly tucked. She treasures that imperfect little gift. Not because she needs another pillow. But because she recognizes it as something made with love and gratitude.
And God is like that.