Saturday, December 17, 2011

Tis the Reason......

I love Christmas. I always have. The bright colors, the lively music, the smells of vanilla and balsam, the harried yet happy faces of fellow shoppers. I love searching for the right gift, and the exhilaration of successfully finding it. I love playing Secret Santa, imagining the delight the recipient is sure to feel upon finding the colorfully wrapped gift on the porch. I love the family parties, the shrieking of children's voices as they dash through Grandma's house in pursuit of one another, the family photo montage put together by Uncle Mike. I love our gaily decorated Christmas trees, and Daron's Christmas Village. I love the traditional foods: cashew brittle, pecan bars, homemade fudge, soft sugar cookies with cream cheese frosting and m&m's. Almond Roca! Candy canes! Those neopolitan candies Brach's makes that I can't find anymore. Pizza on Christmas Eve with a side of my husband's homemade French Onion soup. I'm salivating!

I cherish my memories of the Christmases my mother used to create, on a limited budget, for 8 children. She made everything magical. I don't know how she did it, but, somehow, she always managed to scrape together whatever was necessary to provide each of us with something special under the tree from the jolly fat man. Daron and I have been fortunate enough to always have the means to provide our children with whatever their little hearts desired for Christmas, within reason, but I'm not sure if I've provided them with the same caliber of memories I hold most dear.

One tradition that we've carried over from my childhood is the retelling of the Nativity on Christmas Eve. Our children dress up, using towels and blankets, to play the parts of Mary and Joseph, shepherds, angels, and various animals. Even at their ages, they still consider that an essential part of our celebration, and insist on acting out the story as recounted in the New Testament narrative.

The past couple of Christmases have been a challenge for me, as I am the one who narrates the story as the children play the parts. As my beliefs have come into sharper focus, I've struggled to read aloud a story that I'm not convinced with any degree of certainty is factual. Last year I stumbled through the telling, choking on my words, blaming my difficulty on the memory of our beloved Grandma Henrie who had passed away the prior Christmas. Authenticity and integrity are vitally important to me, and I didn't want to appear to give credence to an account I no longer felt sure was based on anything more than legend. Neither did I want to spoil Christmas Eve for my loved ones, who cherish the story as they cherish their own testimonies of its Star. So, I muddled through, quickly moving on to my favorite story of the evening, "The Night Before Christmas", by Clement C. Moore. Now that's a story that warms my heart!

As this season has progressed, I've pondered for many hours the story of the First Christmas. I've spent considerable time this year studying the history of the New Testament, discovering that what I had always believed was an inspired retelling of actual, historical accounts, was merely the memories of relatively unknown spectators of the times, recorded decades after His death. They weren't even contemporaries of Christ's, as they lived years after He had exited stage left. They were recording the story as it had been retold to them, passing through countless sources, the number unknown to us. And the study of contemporary events has shown that many of the most cherished facets of the narrative have no basis in fact. They cannot be corroborated by historical events that are known to have occurred. And the two recordings of the Nativity, found in Matthew and Luke, contradict one another in significant ways, contradictions that cannot be easily reconciled. They cannot both be true. One or the other got it wrong. But which one? The story as we know it, the one shared in church services and homes throughout the Christian world on Christmas Eve, is an amalgamation of the two, meshing the narratives and creating a beautiful picture of a divine birth, attended by animals in a stable, and noted by shepherds abiding nearby, later by kings of noble birth bearing gifts.

Written history comes to us through the lens of the writer, with his or her unique perspective influencing the telling of the story. It's a rare writer who can relay pure fact, without revealing something of their motivation in recording a particular story. So it is with New Testament writers. They each wanted to portray the life of Christ in a way that supported their own beliefs about who he was. And when their writings are analyzed, their own agendas are revealed. As I've become aware of the nuances present in the scriptural retelling of the Nativity, I've attempted to uncover the message each writer was trying to convey. And, for me, the underlying theme, no matter the details each presented as fact, was love. Pure love. Divine love. Love meant to motivate and elevate us, and most of all, to inspire us.

So this Christmas Eve, I'm going to narrate the story of the birth of Christ as usual, acknowledging that it is an important story, a story that inspires us, and lifts us. And I'll focus on the thread woven throughout the narrative that tells of love, both divine and earthly. The love of a Heavenly Father, who, because He loved the world, gave His only Begotten Son, that we might live forever with Him. The love of Mary, who, though still a child herself, accepted the role assigned to her, with all its inherent difficulties, and became the mother of the Savior of the world. The love of Joseph, Mary's betrothed, who, because he loved Mary, accepted her story of divine conception, though it flew in the face of everything he knew to be true, and stood by her side as she gave birth in a stable. The love of the Savior Himself, our elder brother, who came into the world as a tiny baby, and grew into a man who exemplified love, teaching us to care for one another as He cares for us. Though I don't believe in the literal historicity of the account, I believe in the message. And that's what I love the most about Christmas.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Boy Meets Girl

Wanna hear a great love story? Boy meets girl. Girl doesn't like boy much. Boy asks girl to marry him. Girl says, "Yeah, why not?"

Okay, so maybe it wasn't quite that simple. There may be a few details I've neglected to include, but you get the gist of it! Basically, 23 years ago this month, I met an amazing gentleman (and I don't use the term lightly), we dated briefly, we were both hit by one of the strongest spiritual lightning bolts we'd ever felt, and we decided to align our destinies and make our union legal. There you have it. And, though every day hasn't felt like a fairy tale (well, maybe Cinderella on occasion, sweeping up ashes and soot, or Beauty and the Beast, though I'm not telling which one of us played which role....), we are living our happily ever after. He is the milk to my cookie, the cheese to my macaroni, the frosting to my cupcake.... forgive me, I'm hungry! The point is, while he likes to tell me that he feels lucky to have me, it is I who won the lottery all those years ago.

My best friend's daughter and my daughter's best friend (they are one and the same) is getting married this week. She's only 19, so young to be making a serious commitment. And I fear for her. One day, she may wake up and find that not only does she not know the guy whose head rests on the pillow next to hers, she doesn't like him. It's a common tale. Happens all the time. She hasn't known him six months, and from what I've observed, the attraction is very strong, and very physical. And I realize how judgmental I'm being, and hypocritical. I knew my husband 3 weeks before we got engaged. 3 weeks. We got engaged on our third date. However, I was 28, he was 32, we'd both been around the block a few times, and we had learned a thing or two. At least that's what I tell myself.

The reality of it is that we got lucky. He could have turned out to be an axe murderer. I could have turned out to have really bad housekeeping skills. Oh, wait, that one's actually true. Nevermind, the point is that we knew next to nothing about each other, and we rushed our engagement so we could have sex. Sorry to be so blunt, but it's the truth. We knew we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together, and we were physically attracted to each other, and we wanted to marry in the Mormon temple, which meant no sex before the big night. So, a little over 3 months after we met, we were married. And, as it turns out, we became really great friends. There is no one on earth I'd rather spend an afternoon with, no one else I'd share my french fries with (hungry, remember?), nobody else I'd trust with all of my secrets. He is my best friend, my pal, my one true love, my density (see Back to the Future). He's the syrup to my pancakes. Alright, I'll go eat something!

So, how did we get so lucky? My parents recently celebrated 55 years of marriage, and my mom and I have had many conversations on this topic. She also feels lucky to be with my dad. She says blessed, I say it's semantics. Blessed, lucky. I guess it depends on one's philosophy of life. I have a hard time calling it blessed, knowing the implication that God intervened and that's why I ended up with such a great marriage. If that's true, why didn't God intervene in my best friend's courtship and tell her that her intended would turn out to be an a**hole? That he would break her heart after over 25 years of marriage? That he would leave her financially and emotionally devastated and run off into the sunset with his girlfriend? Why? I know I'm not more deserving of a good man's love; I'm not a better person, not kinder, not more spiritually fit. The religious answer, at least the Mormon version, has me somehow earning a better life by my pre-earthly choices. But I'm not satisfied with that answer. At all. And I don't have a better one to offer. The truth is, I just don't know why. Lucky, I guess.

So, as young Sarah joins her life this week with whom I hope is the love of her life, I wish for her luck. Luck, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, compassion, generosity. And a guy who will run out to the store and buy polish sausages and fresh Lee's buns for dinner if that is what she craves. Like my guy did tonight. He's the best, and I'm the luckiest girl on earth.

Addendum: Hyperbole is a useful tool when attempting to illustrate a point. It becomes a hindrance to communication when the person to whom it was applied reads it, and objects on the grounds that it paints a picture that isn't representative of their reality, or their side of the story. For this, I apologize.
However, I stand by my original point. Many people claim a supreme being brought their love into existence; I still believe it's luck. And sometimes that luck is bad. Which doesn't mean the two people involved were bad, but that maybe they were not as good a match as originally believed.
In other words, God doesn't deserve the credit, or the blame, for love gone wrong. We do that all on our own.