holidays… holy days… and the moments in between…
written by Heidi L. Paulec
Anticipate… Savor… Remember.
The holidays are upon us… again. Do you anticipate… savor…remember?
Notice the photo above? Some of my Mom’s (Aunt Karen … after the rain (part 1)) side of the family circled up for Thanksgiving dinner back in 1991… 25 years ago. While the day wasn’t necessarily an ordinary one for me, it was familiar with a hint of formal.
Every Thanksgiving since… I remember this particular photographed Thanksgiving and one other.
The other was the year my great-uncle on the Italian side of the family (several states away) fell through a skylight and passed away. We got the call as the family sat and feasted around the table. We went from celebratory chatter to shocked silence.
Why this photographed Thanksgiving?
Well, several that sat among us that day are no longer with us. Specifically, two of the dear souls photographed… have already passed on… unto life beyond this life. Grandma Ruth, the one with the white hair, had only recently stopped dying her hair … that most days looked more purple-y than her more youthful brown, and we teased her about her punk-rocking tendencies.
And Jamie… the one refreshing drinks. (He Stopped Laughing)
This simple photo captured a glimpse into our family that day… any day until 1992… when the unraveling began for me. Even as … so much dares to die & change… I’ve come to plod up the hills of holidays with the Hebrews of old… through the Psalms of Assent. I remember. I anticipate. And I savor.
Anticipate… Savor… Remember.
As one prone to planning big events, a well-devised check-list comes easily. Honing in on tasks to complete, ambiences to create, and people to circle… I can do it. I love doing it. It is the everyday… the moments in between … that catch me lacking.
Do I need… Aim. Ambience. Audience?
Holidays circle us around again to what has been. I love the Psalms of Assent (Psalm 120-134). These are the preparatory songs the Hebrew people would sing as they traversed up the hills to Jerusalem to gather for their feasts a few times a year. God instituted the feasts (Deuteronomy), and He called His people to gather to cyclically celebrate … together.
What exactly were they called to celebrate? Success? Ease? Pleasure? Petition?
What and why do we celebrate still?
For me, this year 2016, Thanksgiving served up a ripened harvest of fruit – not from ease or pleasure, success or petition… Rather, this year has been one of the most exposing, daunting, exhausting, exhilarating one of my life.
Yet, I know …
His peace in pain…
His joy in suffering…
His faithfulness in doubt…
His truth among lies…
His Love in unworthiness.
His encouragement in rejection.
His profound endurance across the ages …
Remembering a lifetime of holidays over the past several weeks…
… why the flood of memories this year? I think the release of this Shadows Presence project earlier this year… along with sending a son off to college and battling my own health issues… and the 25 years… I guess I was bound to feel a little something extra this year.
I know I instantly like to think of the giddy, tummy-tickling days anticipating the wonders… especially all the years we opened gifts on Christmas Eve night following the slowest day of the year. As we begged the sun to tuck away, the chili and cinnamon rolls to be consumed, so we could gather around the biggest tree in the biggest living room in the world. We’d beg our Grandpa to read the Christmas story because we knew that always preceded unwrapping the gifts. For years, he read from the Gospel according to Luke. In the King James version.
I think of cleaning china and carefully washing dishes…only to pack them away again.
I think of high and happy expectations fulfilled and surpassed some years … while others dashed in vomiting heap… the whole family coming down with a stomach bug? For real.
Honestly, as one prone to plan… I’m also quite prone to remember. The kind of remembering that can be tense in the present. Why? A yearning to return … jousts with a pulsing hope for the fresh moments… moments ripening… memories-in-the-making… longing to … re-weave the tatters… and set it all right for my own children.
Switching seasons still startles me a little. Transitioning from one to another… like from the reflective Thanksgiving to the season of anticipatory Light & Wonder. I think I tend … to attempt… to stranglehold the holy days … my vain, vice-gripping… my own grit-grab at “peace on earth.”
I don’t want to let go… I love the anticipating… the merriment… the laughter… the colors, textures, flavors… sights, sounds, smells… I even enjoy the predictable annoyances volleyed around a family… I just don’t like … it to be over.
Why is this 25 year old Thanksgiving photo relevant all these years later?
I remember. And I miss them still.
The Gathering … the gathering of souls … familiar souls… a universal appeal… across time & space… we long to be known and loved… to be surrounded and secure… for the Gathering. And we get hints of the gathering here … on earth… not to settle us here… but to give us a taste of our Home to come.
The holidays remind us of history. Our history. And if we … wonder into the deep… and really remember… we might remember the history beyond our history.
The holidays refresh us in the present. The Pause. If we relax long enough to listen, we join eternal choirs’ song and savor prayers prayed… the kind full of human weariness, but fully assured of Heaven’s winsomeness sprinkled about the now.
The holidays reinforce the enduring beauty of the Hope to come. The Hope. Our Living Hope. He stirs us with anticipation, wonder… and longing For the Glory Yet to Be.
The holidays remind us … every day can be a holy day… set apart… not necessarily for extravagance, but to elevate earthly whims to eternal wonder. A wonder… we can enter … into any day.
What about the days that change everything? The days families unravel at the seams? The absences hover and grow heavy among us… When the Silence shrieks…
I remember deeply longing for the return of the happy… the holidays… not the unending heavy… and yet… also, carrying a tension… a perpetual plea … for the mundane.
“A Song of Ascents.
1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!
2 O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleas for mercy!
3 If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
4 But with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared.
5 I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
6 my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.
7 O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
8 And he will redeem Israel
from all his iniquities.”
Cycling through the Psalms of Assent remind me of the journey set before each of us. Traversing the years… these Psalms… teach me & … tenderly… over and over and over again…
…how to prepare for the long haul, how to anticipate the wonders of Him & Home, how to savor & return thanks in the moments, and how to tuck away aspects of His Character to count on when the future questions His Faithfulness.
I’m reminded of all I’m lacking… on holidays, holy days…and moments in between… Yet, I’m also reminded of a firm, steadfast eternal Love – a Person, a Place… Who chooses to pour Himself into earthen vessels… gathered … for our good… and His Glory.
After 25 years, I’m still learning… learning to welcome a co-mingling of human emotions…Anticipating… I’m learning to relax… linger… Savoring… soaking in … . Remembering… brief & beautiful… timeless & tough… remembering history is beyond me… and includes me. Ultimately, I’m learning… I’m still learning… my deficiencies don’t define me… rather, they just make more room for Him… tenderly He leads me… through seasons of loss … into an emptied awareness … of His Eternal Abundance … tenderly entering holidays… and every day… as holy days.
To Our Dear Readers This Past Year,
I want to thank you for sharing your journey with us through the release of these writings. Connecting with all of you from around the world in this quiet, often painful – but extraordinarily beautiful place… has been our honor. What joy & peace to share…slowly & vulnerably and then hear from so many, many of you as well. Absolutely humbling to be a part of this endeavor.
Thank you for being part of Shadows Presence. Praying for each of us this holiday season… May we render our losses at the Cross… may we recognize & receive Jesus among us and celebrate His Resurrection and Redemptive work as eternal encouragement and endurance … And I pray He makes us brave enough, so He can pour Himself through us to offer creative compassion and comfort to those around us.