[Yesterday I wrote the following reflection on Day 21 of my poetry-memorization project.]
"Choices at Christmas Time"
Twelve days before Christmas and there were no stockings hung by the chimney with care. There was no hope that St. Nicholas soon would be there. There wasn’t even a Christmas tree in the house or a wreath on the front door. (There were, however, one hundred and twenty-five Christmas cards in the mail, and gifts purchased and wrapped, sitting on the floor around the non-existent tree. So, the “required” actions had been taken, right?) Had there been a death in the family? Was I depressed? Everyone who knows me knows that in years past I’ve always been ahead of the game with the decorations, creating a holiday atmosphere for family and friends to enjoy. So why was I such a Christmas slacker this year?
Did I mention I’m writing a book? Two, actually? And posting on my blog three times a week and guest-blogging on two other blogs regularly? And organizing writing conferences and workshops? For the first time in my adult life, I decided to take myself seriously as a writer this year. It is my full time job, and it leaves very little time for all the extras that seemed requisite when I was a “stay at home mom.”
But today I decided to do one thing—to hang a wreath on the front door. (Well, front window on our porch, actually.) A simple thing, really, but one that says, to passers-by and to myself, Christmas is happening here. Really, it is. What prompted this simple display? An anonymous poem: “The Wreath is on the Door.”
The wreath is on the door
And the snow is on the tree
God has laid His holy hands
On all that we can see
I memorized the first verse while getting the wreath down from the attic and hanging it on the window. Tromping up and down the stairs to the simple beat and rhyme was actually fun. And watching snow flurries as I took the wreath outside lifted my spirits, although the snow didn’t stick and wasn’t really “on the tree.” Wait—maybe the poet mean the snow was on the Christmas tree, like fake snow?
Last night I went to church for the first time in a few weeks. I had been out of town, and then sick. We have special prayers to the Mother of God on Monday evenings during the Nativity Fast—the weeks leading up to Christmas. The church was dark, lit only by candles, and by the voices of those chanting and singing together. We were still in a time of preparation for Christmas, not the brighter days of celebration that would come after. I thought of that this morning as I continued to memorize this short poem. I recited the second (and final) verse standing in the dining room where I could see the wreath through the window:
Be quick to raise your voice
And praise what He has brought.
Keep now His love in every choice
And Christmas in every thought.
And so I raised my voice with this simple poem and praised God for His gifts, for what “He has brought.” And I listened to the poet’s admonition to keep God’s love in every choice and I decided that I could be a writer and still love God. That I could keep Christmas in every thought by giving myself to my work in such a way that I might produce something that would be worthy of my readers. I could leave it to others to decorate their houses and trim their trees this year. I would find ways to keep God’s love in my choices—spending a Saturday morning filling Christmas bags for the homeless and perhaps an *evening caroling at a nursing home—but I would not choose to pressure myself to “do it all” this year.
Oh, sure, I’ll cook Christmas dinner for our son (home from Afghanstan!) and a few friends. (We’re going to Denver to spend New Year’s with our other children and grandchildren this year—another reason for the absent stockings and tree back here in Memphis.) And it will be joyous. But for the next twelve days, I’ve got a novel to finish. My characters are waiting for me to light up their world with love and hatred, with joy and grief, with success and failure. They’re waiting to share with me—and eventually, with you—the consequences of their choices. Yes, Mare, I hear you calling and I’ll be there in just a few minutes. And so I leave behind thoughts of shopping and trimming and cooking for now and return to my work.
After all, the wreath is on the door.
[*Note: I didn't make it to our church's annual Christmas carolling at a local nursing home. I was still coughing and sneezing and not quite up to making a joyful noise. But I have wonderful memories from previous years, which you can read about here.]