- Fires in fireplaces.
- Homemade cookies.
- Christmas lights.
- Old cartoons.
- Empty journals.
- Kind smiles.
- Old ornaments.
- Warm hugs.
- More days of Christmas.
But wait! There’s more!
The Rambler Family Christmas does not end on the day itself. No, sirree. We love the season too much to let it be over in a day.
We know how to drag out a Christmas. Drag it out in the best possible way. We drive deep down south where there’s nothing but swamps, sand, and pine trees (and some towns, too) to spend time with my dad’s half of the family. We all spend four days together under the roof of a rambling century-old haunted mansion. And it’s awesome.
This year, Adventure Buddy is coming with us, which is quite exciting. We haven’t been on an adventure in a while, so it will be nice to add this adventure to our list.
For a few days, we get to ease ourselves out of Christmas by extending the part of Christmas that is, after all, among the most important: reconnecting with those we love.
There’s also no internet out there, which means that this post was written in advance. As will be the next few posts. It’s my little blogging break for the year.
May your Christmases continue a few days more, if not the whole year long.
Here’s the thing about Christmas.
Christmas exists because the Son of God was born as a human child. You can get your britches in a tangle over it all you want to, but the fact is that’s where it all began. In a manger. In Bethlehem. No, Jesus probably wan’t born on December 25th. He probably wasn’t even born in the bleak midwinter. But He was born. There’s a lot of history to back me up on that.
Christ became a man so He could live like us, suffer like us, be tempted like us, but never fail. He was born to be perfect. People hate perfect; people hate good, so they killed Him and thought that would be the end of it. But because He was perfect, He could carry the wickedness of the world on His shoulders and pay for every last bit of it. That way, we wouldn’t have to.
Don’t try to tell me sin doesn’t exist. We wouldn’t have the headlines we do if it didn’t.
But He has the power to take all of that away.
And He didn’t just come for anglo-saxon protestant people, either. He didn’t just come to earth for people born into certain families or for people from certain backgrounds or for those who adhere to specific political parties. He came to die for all of us.
To God, all people matter.
Born-again Christians sometimes misrepresent Him. They fail to give the Gospel the way the Bible tells it. They fail to walk the walk that matches Christ’s teaching. I know I do. I know I fail God all the time.
But I believe God can work through my imperfections. He’s done it before.
So if you’re reading this tonight, taking a break from the festivities to read a blog post or two before midnight, perhaps wondering what all the fuss is about, I’ll tell you.
The fuss is about hope. Hope in the form of God become man. Hope in the form of God as a tiny child. Hope in the form of a man who would die to give us the greatest gift of all: redemption and eternal life.
Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim.
O night divine, O night, O night divine.
Christmas is for looking back over our shoulders.
It’s for those heart-warming stories that follow a pattern, a familiar one. They have their own little cliches and formulas, but they warm our hearts anyway.
It’s time for photo albums.
It’s time for old recipes you should have memorized by now, but always drag out the cook book anyway. It always falls open to the right page.
It’s time for the same old CDs played on the same old speakers.
It’s time for laughing about nothing for the sake of hearing laughter.
It’s time to drive away the wintertime ad the gathering dark with a ray of hope, fueled by memories of the past and the Promise of the future.
Christmas shopping. Such a delightful activity. There’s decorations in every shop window, Christmas music filtering down from the mall speakers, and lots and lots of discounts.
I shop maybe three times a year. Once in the spring to get fall clothes on clearance, once in the summer to pick up odd hippie clothing and a few Christmas gifts, and once a few days before Christmas. The Christmas shopping experience is always the most intense. I’m buying for other people then, not for me, which makes me think twice as hard. I know what I like, but figuring out what other people will like is both extremely fun and extremely nerve-wracking.
That process is not what I’m here to talk about today, however. I’m going to talk about advertising.
Walking around a mall is exhausting. Number one, there are tons of grumpy people everywhere. Not just people–being around people is exhausting enough, speaking as an introvert–but grumpy people.
Number two, the advertising. The advertising is exhausting. Online and elsewhere. A thousand larger-than-life images of photoshopped men and women, ersatz stock photo families, shiny gadgets and gizmos, story-tall displays of whatnots and whozits.
All of these posters and displays say the same thing: buy this, or you won’t be happy, healthy, successful, beautiful, desirable, lovable, whole…
Online, it’s even worse. Take a few moments to scroll through the health and beauty page(s) of any online news source. A thousand glistening, digitally altered images show you “perfect” skin, “perfect” eyebrows, “perfect” eyelashes, “perfect” everything–perfection that can be yours if you buy this product, watch this tutorial, purchase this brush, invest in this brand.
Not like the site was paid off to write those kinds of reviews in the first place. Not at all.
The greatest irony of American culture–or any culture, really–is its insistence that we’re all good enough just the way we are while simultaneously insisting the opposite.
Advertisements of an aggressive nature operate similarly to the TLC show What Not to Wear. In this show, concerned family members of someone who dresses according to her (or occasionally his) personal taste and comfort enlist the help of two expensively-dressed and overpaid snobs to tell their loved one that their life is a mess because he or she doesn’t dress according to current fashions. These “consultants” convince this previously happy person that he/she is in fact unhappy and ugly and take the person on a shopping trip to buy her things that will make her feel pretty and happy again. They also change her hair and how she does her makeup to make her look acceptable to their standards of beauty. At the end of the show, there’s a “big reveal” party to show all the person’s loved ones the glorious results of a simple wardrobe change. Everyone cries. The recipient of the makeover is crying because the emotional journey of discovering her new, conformed self is over. Her family cries because their loved one is finally “normal” and “pretty.” The consultants cry because…well, pretty sure they keep onions in their blazer pockets for such occasions. I cry because I don’t like shows that take advantage of people, and I could have spent the last thirty minutes of my life a little more wisely.
Some advertisements do the same thing as this show, or try to. Before I encounter the add, I’m content–with my face, with my hair, with my wardrobe, with my figure. The advertisement, however, presents me with an Ideal. The advertisement makes it obvious that I don’t measure up to this Ideal, and I’m suddenly tempted to feel inadequate. Why can’t I look like that? But the advertisement assures me that with the purchase of the product it presents, I can be returned to my previously content state and live happily ever after. At least until I run out of or wear out the thing and need to buy it again.
Advertisements create the problem they promise to solve.
Now, lest I trigger any knee-jerk reactions, I realize that not all advertisements are like the aforementioned. Most advertisements (store displays, etc.) give you polite reminders like “Hey, that thing you already like or genuinely need? It’s on sale this week! Just thought you’d like to know” or “This thing here might solve a problem you already know about, but you can take it or leave it, no biggie!” This kind of product promotion supports both consumer and producer.
But a lot of advertisements–and ladies, let’s be real, you know what I’m talking about–say “You’re clearly inadequate. But if you buy this thing, you will become adequate.”
I understand why companies advertise the way they do. People get degrees in advertising. It’s a science. The science of selling things. Despite my concerns about how things are advertised, I am grateful that people buy things, because every time an item is bought, someone somewhere gets paid and can feed himself or his family, pay the rent, pay the heating bill. That’s important. That’s very, very important. People gotta eat.
However, a day of shopping at the mall, the typical hive of more aggressive advertising tactics, leaves me mentally exhausted. All day long my subconscious has been grappling with image after image of what I should look like and be compared to what I do look like and am. I buy several items and my mother (the best shopping buddy ever) buys several as well. A few items she bought are early Christmas presents for me.
And I put them on and looked in the mirror. Yes, they make me feel pretty. And look pretty. I am deeply grateful for them. But, as my mother assured me today and assures me daily, I was pretty before I even knew those items existed. And I’d still be as pretty without them. Things, after all, are things, and they can’t fill a hole. They can’t make a person. The clothes do not, in fact, make the man.
The thing is, I am in possession of something no money can buy. I have a deeper contentment than any trinket or bauble could ever bring me. I’ve been given other goals besides looking like the fictional people in the catalogs or having what they have.
Christmas time is more than “a time for paying bills without money,” but “a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open up their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”
Contentment oughtn’t to rely on the procuring or possession of things. Not at all. Contentment, properly planted, finds its roots in heaven and grows downward. Then the heart is free to buy (or sell) for the benefit of others, with the knowledge that the best gifts are yet to come.
You know what’s beautiful?
The Christmas lights in the windows of your parents’ house as you drive up the long, dark road that leads to their front door.
What’s additionally beautiful is that you get to stay there for a long, long while, reveling in Christmas and sheltered by their love.
Adding to that beauty is the phenomenal weight that has been lifted from my shoulders. I wrote that sentence in passive. Do you know why? Because no one will be grading this blog post. No one will be grading anything that I write for a very long time. Because I won’t be writing anything for a grade for a very, very long time. So there.
Yes. The lights in my parents’ windows was enough to make me put on my brakes before I pulled in the driveway, just to look at it and cry a little.
The Big Bad Woolf paper got a high A. I don’t know how my other classes turned out yet, but I don’t care right now. I am happy and healthy and home and all is right with the world. At least my corner of it.
Good night, dear readers. My your days be as merry and bright as mine has been today.
I don’t know what to do.
I really just…don’t know what to do.
I was up until 2 last night/this morning. I was studying for an exam, and none of the information was sticking. I also had to write two essays for a take-home exam in a different class. I wrote one. It was finished at twelve, and I had barely looked at the material for the in-class exam.
My brain gave up at 1:30. I fought my way to bed by 2.
I got up at seven. My brain hurt, and I was still not done studying. And nothing would stick.
Then I blinked. The exam was over, and the other one was turned in. Fumbling through the day was not that stressful, after all, and everything is done. For the time being.
Two of my three classes are no longer the boss of me. The really hard ones.
And now I don’t know what to do. My brain is empty, my eyes are dry, my lips are chapped, my body is flabby from skipping running to get schoolwork done, and I don’t care about things right now.
My hands itch. The kind of itch that won’t be satisfied until I pick up a book or write something articulate, quickly and frantically, late into the night. My brain is still trying to form thesis statements and cohesive outlines for potential papers. I keep thinking I have assigned reading I have to do, a novel to read, at least a scanned article from my professor, but there’s nothing. Nothing to write. Nothing to read. Nothing left at all.
I could do anything. I could work on my novel. I could buy Christmas present online. I could draw something. I could work on a poem. I could write in my journal. I could write a play. I could watch a movie. i could do any number of things.
But I cannot form a thought. I cannot raise a finger. I can only sit and stare at the wall, overwhelmed at the magnitude of what I have completed, of what is behind me. What has been done.
I don’t know what to do.
Have you finished your shopping yet?
It’s six months until Christmas. Have you finished your shopping?
I’ve finished about half of mine. I shop abroad these days. Let that sound as haughty in your head as you’d like it to sound.
As for me, I have everything I could ever need or want. So I’m good. But make sure you get your shopping for everyone else taken care of.
Call me childish, but I’ve always imagined heaven to be a bit like a fir tree.
Heaven isn’t very elaborately described in the Bible. Cartoons show heaven as a kind of blank and boring cloudy whiteness where everybody takes harp lessons for eternity, but that’s not what the Bible describes. Yes, it’s a celestial kingdom, so it’s logical to assume there will be clouds involved, but I doubt that they’ll serve the purpose of both ceiling and floor. No, it’s got be more substantial than that.
As a child, I would sit at the foot of our Christmas tree and look up at its unfathomable height, every branch glistening with lights and ornaments, and I’d think, “Surely heaven must be built like this.”
Somehow I see coil after coil of crystalline branches spiraling up into infinity, with all of us who called Christ our Savior milling about in the dazzling light. I see us making homes–homes numerous as the needles on a pine branch. And at the top of this beautiful tree, up among the stars glittering newer than new, would be God’s throne room, where God would sit and watch us all, His smile enough to illumine the whole. He’d sit there, of course, but He would be all over the tree at once, since no part of a tree is disconnected from the rest of it, making all of heaven resonate with His goodness and beauty and marvelousness.
That is how I see heaven. It’s probably far from the truth, since I think no one is supposed to know for sure until we get there and see for ourselves. Whatever heaven is like, I’m sure it will be wonderful.
But 1 still wonder if maybe, just maybe, heaven will be like a tree.
One of the most important elements of the annual family reunion is playing board games. Ever since I was very, very small, staying up late and playing board games with my aunt and cousins has been the highlight of the trip. I’ve always loved playing board games and card games—the larger the group, the better, which goes strongly against my deep-seated introvertism. But family makes it fun. We’re a smallish family, my parents and I, and there’s little opportunity to play board games since we’re always so busy. But Christmas gives us an excuse to do nothing but have fun together.
My cousin is the champion of Clue. She wins every year, multiple times. Because it’s a strategic puzzle game, I rarely win. But I enjoy the process.
Occasionally we brave a game of Monopoly. Normally we can play this game without threats of disinheritance. Normally.
Playing SORRY, on the other hand, encourages enough disunity that we try to only play it once during our stay. It’s a shame, because I like that one.
Of course, it’s only the women who play the board games. The men play bored games, like “Let’s See Who Can Land the Remote Control Helicopter on the Assigned Target,” or “Fix the Washing Machine.” Or our personal favorite, “Help the Women Play Their Board Game While Refusing to Actually Play the Game.”
Eh, it doesn’t matter. We’re all having fun in our own individual ways. The important thing is that we’re together, and that we’re enjoying each other’s company.
So far we’ve discussed health, real estate, Obamacare, farming, dogs, cats, hunting, children, food, and now we’ve gotten to writing. This is the extended Rambler family, doing what we all do best:
I only see my father’s side of the family once a year. The day after Christmas, we drive down six hours to spend four days in a rickety historical home, sitting around the fire and swapping stories.
There are twelve of us here, creating a merry chaos as we crowd into one room for warmth, talking about whatever occurs to us to talk about, playing board games and eating like it’s a holiday or something.
This is the first time we’ve been able to have internet while we’re down here. Now I don’t have to type all my posts in advance. That’s thanks to my cousin and her husband who paid for a hot spot so everyone could get connected.
But we are connected anyway. We’re connected to each other for the first time in a year. For four days, we’ll review each other’s lives, share laughs, and make memories.