Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Hurry Up and Say Thank You

I can feel Christmas breathing down my neck. Tomorrow, I will host Thanksgiving dinner for my parents, grandfather and brother. For the last hour I have been cubing white bread and drying it in the oven. But what I'm thinking about today is that Christmas is coming.

Jeff and I do Christmas on a crazy scale. In our attic we have at least 12 18-gallon totes of Christmas decorations, and that's not including the two dozen plastic light up characters that won't fit in the totes. It takes us so long to decorate that we do it as early as possible. Last year, we got things down before Thanksgiving, but since we're hosting this year, the totes come down on Friday.

I've considered scaling back, but the way we decorate in December has become a core part of our culture as a family. Our kids love it. Our neighbors come to check it out every year and take pictures; one neighbor we've never met even brought us candy and a thank-you note. Our homeowners association board even put us at the top of the cue to have our fences replaced so they'd be done in time for our decorations to go up.

I've written about deadlines before. Today I'm staring down a big one. I feel like my house has to be prepped, a blank canvas on which Christmas can descend. I've been cleaning out closets and getting rid of old toys, dusting, vacuuming, packing up pink and yellow pottery in my kitchen cabinet to make room for my Christmas Spode. I've washed sheets and blankets, shaken out rugs, scrubbed walls. When Christmas comes down, we will barely be able to walk in a couple of rooms until all is unpacked, so I know I won't be able to do my usual chores. I'm fending off chaos by getting things clean underneath.

It's just a little bit of a bummer, because I love Thanksgiving; everything about it except indigestion. The food, the aromas, the fall leaves, but mostly the whole premise that we are saying thank you for our blessings, our families, our lives. I also love the idea that people of all faiths and even no faith do this together. And the problem is that culturally Christmas makes us feel the opposite of thankful. It can become all about wanting more, doing more. You must have more fun! You must have prettier clothes! You must update your makeup for holiday parties! You must have a wish list! You must buy things from others' wish lists! And because I am of the creative and compulsive bent, I must sew, craft and paint more than is possibly possible!

So I better hurry up and say "thank you!" Our pastor gives the same message every year the week before Thanksgiving about grounding our hearts in thankfulness before the Christmas season starts. I missed it last week, but I almost know it by heart after 11 years at the same church. I think he would be quite proud of me for paying attention. Here's my "grounding" list of thankfulness, incomplete because I can't possibly list everything.

I'm thankful for:

*my health: for clarity of mind and soundness of body; for the way my body does what I tell it to do and gets me to where I need to go every day.

*my husband, who is my playmate, my rock, my provider, my confidant, my friend, my fix-it guy, my hottie and the best roommate I ever had.

*my kids, who are healthy, beautiful, smart, exasperating and teach me every day how far I have yet to go as a person, but also -- grace upon grace! -- how far I have come in the last six years. Not having sisters myself, I'm also so grateful to have little girls and that they have each other.

*my parents, still married after 39 years, who adore our little family and support us in absolutely every way possible, giving us both space and community, comfort and freedom, a sense of security

*my husband's parents, also still married after 39 years, who instilled in him the values I cherish that make him such a trustworthy husband; they also love us and dote on our children, always making time to spend with us and play with our daughters

*our brothers and sisters, all men and women of fun and integrity who love God and strive for excellence in their lives

* all our extended family from grandparents to uncles and aunts that give us a sense of history and belonging in this big world

*our three beautiful nieces and our nephew on the way. They make us laugh! My daughters cherish them! I love watching the relationships my kids are forming with their cousins.

*my dear, dear friends who are the sisters that weren't born to my family. I am surrounded by incredibly strong, loving, truthful women, and their children and husbands are our extended family.

*my ministry in MOPS, where I get to give back and help create community with other women, who are often so lonely and isolated in our culture. I'm also grateful for all the mild and major struggles I have as a mom that equip me for this job.

* our church, my daughter's school, and our government. We are free to worship, we live in peace, our kids will be well-educated, and we have opportunities to use our gifts and make our way in the world.

And then, my more material list:
*my home
*my garden
*the trees outside my door
*my Kitchen-Aide mixer and front load washer
*my sewing machine
*my camel suede boots
*my white coat Jeff bought me last winter
*my laptop
*my turquoise cellular phone
* and lastly, those 12 totes of Christmas totes that are coming down in two days. I will see them as an opportunity to bless my kids and build memories, instead of a stressful chore to cope with.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. I'm thankful for you!

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