It’s interesting living in western Washington (insert eye rolls and sarcastic remarks about understatements here, please). I noticed it more this year than ever before, that here in the Seattle area, as soon as we get past Christmas, there is a sudden sharp turn towards spring, the way an environmentally conscious Subaru (another reason western Washington is interesting: we have those) might screech into a turn at the sight of an accursed plastic bag floating across the road. I almost hesitate to write about this because so many of my loved ones remain in deep, pre-Aslan-esq winter and will continue to remain there until easily March, but there are trade-offs — when their sun comes out, it stays a good long while, like an inconsiderate great-aunt, where our sun pops by more like an Avon lady. None of us get to complain, so let’s talk Christmas lights.
I still have mine up. And when I say “mine”, understand me to mean the ones that were painstakingly and abundantly put up on my behalf and for my joy and benefit and that I had absolutely nothing to do with. I have zero input when it comes to lights. It is neither my muscle nor my ingenuity that brings about the sort of sparkling glory that can be plugged in (and often, it is not even on me to do the plugging in. Pampered? You have no idea), and I really really really like it that way.
Perhaps you have already noticed this, if you have been hanging about this website for longer than a cup of coffee, but I am firmly convinced that our theology lurks behind absolutely everything we do. Theology is constantly spilling out our fingertips. And the theology behind our Christmas light situation brings me joy.
Initially, back in early December, the gigantic ladder was hauled into the house so that white lights could be draped across my ceilings, like my own personal big top. The early rounds of lights were purely for our enjoyment, for bringing brightness to our personal world amidst the darkness of winter. I love to lean back in the orange leather chair and just stare up, when all the other lights in the house are off, and soak up… can you get vitamin D from Christmas lights? I should probably find that out. Anyway. I digress. Then the Light Master moved onto bringing joy and light to passers by with lights strewn in trees and hanging off the eaves and a lighted star he made to mount on the chimney.
The theology is apparent, no?
But now we come to my trembling theology of January, otherwise known as the conundrum of when the lights come down. I am not plagued (any more) by when to take down the tree. What else is New Year’s for but to have neighbors set off fireworks at midnight, thus exposing all the latent sin in my soul that is just waiting for a nudge to go flying off the cliff (it was unreal how quickly I could go from dead asleep to planning what shoes I would wear to the firing squad event that dealt with the maroons who thought it made sense to set off firecrackers over my head in the middle of the night. Those of you who are not yet fully convinced of the doctrine of original sin obviously stay up til midnight on New Year’s Eve and thus do not have your selfishness jolted awake) and for taking down Christmas trees?
Lights, though… I love the lights. I love the glow, the sense of warmth they give the house when it is dark outside. However, I am also painfully aware that there is a fine line between white trash and happy, that I am nearing the point in the month when I will cross over, and that possibly there is no going back. After that, all bets are off! I could start doing my grocery shopping at funeral reception buffet lines and embracing hot pink lipstick (you realize that I can hear you rolling your eyes, right? Once. It happened ONCE! That other lipstick you’re thinking of was mulberry, not hot pink). For all I know, leaving your Christmas lights up too long is a gateway to classlessness, the way that jaywalking is obviously the gateway to murder.
I suppose part of the delay comes in wanting to see the next thing arrive first. Shouldn’t there be more demonstrable signs of spring before I have to let go of my happy lights? Or at the very least, shouldn’t I have a pretty solid tanning package intact first (do you suppose crowd sourcing money to go tanning qualifies as white trash activity? Like, if I do that, I must be so far gone that I might as well just leave up my twinkly lights?)? And as with most of the processing I do by writing here at UnPublish(Able), contemplating this causes me to squirm a bit, because there is something too all-fired familiar about it.
It seems I am often hearing women speak about moving through different seasons in life these days. I think the topic is common because it is a very real, often difficult, design feature of womanhood — we are hard-wired for change. And even though some seasons are harder than others to adjust to, generally what I hear is at least an intellectual acceptance of the changes as they come, or as we see them on the horizon. For example, within the last year, I suddenly realized that I am no longer a mother of young children. Some people have even stopped calling me a “special needs mom”… never really been sure if that special needs bit was referring to the kids or referring to my obvious handicaps as a mother. Both fit, I suppose.
But even as I embrace the changes in my parenting roles, the changes in my body and so forth, I find myself scrabbling to hold on to certain pieces of my identity as I have known it. Sheesh, I hate to use the word ‘identity’ these days, it has so many misunderstandings around it. All I mean is that over the years, largely through the insight of people I look up to and respect, I have learned things about myself that I have latched onto, things that define my role in a group, gifts I have learned to recognize that I can use to serve in the body of Christ. And yet… maybe God is going about the business of changing those things, too.
As a teen, I subscribed to what I can only uncomfortably describe as Focus on the Family’s answer to Cosmo magazine for teenage girls (as your mind reels, I will pause and wait for the nausea to pass) — Brio magazine. And Brio magazine every year had a Brio Girl — the representative, the cover girl, the writer of little editorials at the beginning of the magazine, and (from what I could tell) the shiny-haired recipient of pretty cool swag. And you know how I feel about swag. I applied. And part of the application process involved getting a letter of recommendation from my pastor, where I immediately learned an important lesson: I asked for a letter of recommendation. He said it would be wise to clarify whether I was wanting a recommendation for or against becoming a Brio Girl, as recommendations could go either way and simply asking for one did not clarify the point. I mention this in passing, in case you have ever been exasperated by or curious about where my fixation on defining terms, on words having specific meanings, comes from. It is definitely a learned trait.
The smell of your baited breath is killing me over here, so I’ll just tell you — I never became a Brio girl, and no, I did not have tattoos back then, or an eyebrow ring, so I doubt that was why. My hair probably wasn’t shiny enough and my eschatology was definitely not premil enough. But that letter of recommendation meant a lot to me. I still have it somewhere, in part because it was the kindest thing I think anyone had ever written about me, and in part because it opened my eyes to things about myself that I hadn’t previously seen. Nor had my family.
He wrote that I was determined.
Why should this have been the earth-shattering revelation that it was? I don’t know. But neither my parents nor myself ever saw me this way. Determined described the type A of the world. It described my siblings, competitive and intelligent and honestly quite successful at whatever they put their hands to, then and now. I was not a flaky kid, but back then, I also could tell that I was not a lightning rod. People coexisted with me. I didn’t cry over grades, I never felt compelled to try and be valedictorian, I had reasonable amounts of both failure and success.
But I now believe that what he observed was the beginnings of my life as someone who lived in constant physical pain. And he saw grit that I did not observe in myself.
In the years that followed, I caught glimpses of myself through his observant and arguably kind lens. And now, nearly 25 years later, I wonder if it is still true, or if actually that early determination was like my Christmas lights and that in my current trials, God is moving me on to a different kind of light. Maybe determination is not going to be enough for what He has next. I don’t feel determined right now. I feel like curling up in a ball and hiding under a blanket until it all stops hurting — I want my lights back.
But maybe the Lord has to break the determination so He can rebuild it into something else. Maybe it is time for determination to become perseverance, for grit to become hope.
Maybe it is time for the lights to come down.