Friday, December 23, 2011

a Christmas Spanxing

I have crossed a threshold. Today, on 30% discount, I bought some power panties. (Men, just give us this moment, okay?) I managed to get them on and pulled up to my chin :( but only with quite a bit of fighting. I looked like I was trying to capture an angry bear in a brown elastic bag. No matter. The thing is in place and I am now adorning myself to attend a very elegant Christmas party. The question is - will I survive the night without a) pain b) collapse c) gas or d) explosion. The last two may be the same thing.

I have decided that I may need an emergency procedure half way through this festive night. I have been assured that Steve is carrying his trusty pocket knife.

I will report on the evening in a few hours. Felice Navidad (probably spelled wrong)

OKAY. THE VERDICT IS IN. First, the item in question did not make me hot - it is not of the rubber variety of years gone by. And it did help me eat responsibly... since there was no letting out the belt, if you know what I mean. I don't really think it made me more attractive, although I did sit up straighter. In fact, that might be the high point of the thing. My back felt much better than it usually does when I stand around talking. I think I might wear it when I sit and type... as back support.

I must say that on the way home I wanted to rip the thing off. And it was easier to get off than on.

On the whole, wearing a Spanx did not change my life, or my figure, as much as I can tell. There was no extra flirting coming my way, or jealous looks from women.

Right now I am considering sewing the top shut and using it as an onion bag, or maybe a replacement fabric for my slingshot used to fend off hoards of grackles that rob my songbirds of food. There is always a bright side.

I have to add that my grandmother on my father's side ALWAYS wore a corset. When she was in her 70's she had a corset that wore out and she pulled a 43 year old life-time guarantee out of her drawer and asked my mom to return it to Sears. Trouble was, they didn't have a replacement. So we all have our supports. :)

ps... You know, of course, I am doing this as an experiment. I do not need a corset. SIGH

Monday, December 19, 2011

a Christmas story

In 1981 we had arrived at our first assignment as a pastoral couple. The town was Stony Plain, tucked between the rockies and the city of Edmonton, Alberta. I arrived massively pregnant, carrying Jordan and waiting to be delivered. (It is the mother who is delivered, I like to remind everyone. The baby is born, the mother is delivered. Any mother knows this is true.) Anyway, Jordan who we now call JV was born at the beginning of November, a sturdy lad with few complaints.

A few weeks into winter we were invited to go Christmas tree hunting. Christmas trees in northern Alberta are chosen from forests of lodge-pole pines, not soft bristly evergreens. A lodge-pole pine, as the name suggests, is a very tall tree with a straight almost naked trunk that was used by First Nations people as center poles in their lodges/homes. A lodge-pole pine is a tall stick poking the sky, on the top of which is a triangle of green.

To choose a Christmas tree one has to bend their head far backward into the scruff of a stuffed winter coat and eyeball the various tops of trees. In any case, the top will not be as lovely close up as it is high above your head, but one makes due. :)

This winter we agreed to do the Christmas trudge and I bundled newborn JV like a sausage in blankets, his face barely showing, and propped him on a child's sleigh. Ben and Rachel (4 and 6) skipped ahead and with the other family we began our search. A lot of laughter, arguing, snowball throwing and decision making later, I turned and looked back at JV only to find the sled empty!

Somewhere far behind he had been bumped out of the sled and we had not noticed.

With alarm we retraced our steps through the forest and soon found him face down in the snow. He was quite fine, asleep still, as I remember it, warm as a snow cave can make a person. His little face was rosy but not frost bitten, and he was none the worse for wear.

I think back over all I have lost and found over the years. I lost Mark, and I found him. I lost JV on another occasion and found him. But some things are more amorphous. I've lost hope and found it. I've lost courage and found it. I guess if Christmas is anything it is supposed to remind us that what we see as a dead end or a complete loss can always be given back to us, maybe in a completely different form. We cannot hold onto everything that is. But something new is always being born.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas embodied

If there is a shape that speaks of Christmas in the fullest sense it is not a pine tree or a snow man or even a star. Christmas is most perfectly pictured by the contours of a belly full of baby, stretching the skin to its limits and supporting heavy breasts laden with milk.

The image is decidedly feminine - raw and graceful. A swollen womb invites so many questions: is this baby planned? is this baby wanted? did the woman invite the invasion of her womb or was she a victim? will the baby survive? will the mother survive?

"Women continue to be associated with their bodies in ways that men are not. And, as a result of this unique association, women’s identities are also uniquely tied to their bodies in a manner that men’s identities are not" (quote from Sharon Hodde Miller - see my facebook for her full article.) When Mary said yes to the angel, yes to a will other than her own, she took on the burden familiar to women in every age. Yes, Mary was unique, but she was also woman.

As Mary's waist began to expand did her sense of self begin to change? What did she know about life? How did she understand her role, now as mother and not just woman.

At lunch today I talked with a woman who helps serve in the cafeteria. She was telling me more of her story, and her mother's story. She said she didn't know what a 'boy' was until she was married. She was horrified at what happened to her. When she found out she was pregnant - she had gone to the doctor for the 'flu' - she was confused and asked the doctor how it had happened. He scoffed at her, but she truly didn't know.

Woman's sexuality is a vulnerable thing. In a world where rape is a weapon of war, where little girls are married off before they know who they are, let alone what the act of sex is about, but where even old ladies still want to be 'sexy,' we have Mary. A girl becoming a woman through hope and pain. A baby stretching her womb. Confusion. Wondering. Pondering. What does this mean? What will happen to my baby? What will happen to me?

So this is Christmas. Uncomfortable when it is truest. Dangerous, even. And always open to something new.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

candle candle burning bright

Around the seminary in various prayer chapels we have placed artificially glowing candles with LED lights in them. A little switch on the bottom starts the fake light and it shines steadily with dim glow and somewhat gentles the space. Even our advent candle wreath has the appropriate light switched on.

This is not altogether bad. A few Christmases ago an advent wreath caught on fire during the Christmas eve program. The platform was loaded with straw around a somewhat disheveled manger scene. Our daughter, Rachel, singing on the worship team saw the flame start and calmly picked up the whole stand by the pole and walked off stage toward the door. Her dad, Steve, jumped up and took it from her and carried it outside, now blazing afire. As the wreath burned it disintegrated into dropping fireballs, plopping onto his hand - but he didn't let go until he could throw it on the pavement. What is a good story could have been a disaster.

Potential tragedy not withstanding, the LED lights leave something to be desired. If you place them alongside a real candle you will immediately see the difference. The candle's light glows in a large halo, lighting the room more brightly than you would expect. The electronic light is just a glow, like a fading flashlight.

The reason we use the electronic candles, of course, is safety. I was thinking that some of us live a lot of our life with an electronic light glowing. We are still alive, and it is good enough, and above all - SAFE. In fact, this way is the easy way to live - disconnected from any real flame. But kind of sad, don't you think?

In talking with a young man who is graduating this week from the seminary and choosing his placement in a church, I urged him not to take the safest placement. Try yourself out - try God out. In fact, I told him (obviously still reflecting on our new safer candles), be sure, always that you have something in your life that could burn the house down.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

the speed of Christmas

I pulled into the turning lane and he roared past, blatting his horn with his white cuffed arm out the window and the third finger extended. "I am so glad I am not his wife," my first immediate thought.

Christmas is the season for rushing around. I had impeded some one's progress on the road. Not much. Not for long. But none the less, it was an offense.

But I didn't get pepper sprayed like the woman in WalMart who impeded a shopper. And no one hit me with a baseball bat. So I came out of it all pretty unscathed.

There was a time when someone else's anger made a deep indent into my soul. But no more. The anger a person flings against the world says much more about who they are than who I am.

Formation is a movement toward gentleness. I once shouted at a spiritual friend that if I travelled the way of gentleness I would accomplishing NOTHING! in my life. I have found this to be untrue.

Gentleness makes life so much better on every front.

What is the speed of Christmas I wonder? Anybody know the speed at which a donkey walks? Or the rate of camel clumping? I am guessing Santa's sleigh goes pretty fast to reach the whole world in one night. But the things I like about Christmas can be pretty slow. Making cookies with kids. Watching a Christmas special - live or on TV. Decorating a tree. Yup. I am going to go slow. And if anyone impedes my progress I am going to give them my middle candy-cane, not my middle finger.

Friday, December 2, 2011

meaning making

We humans are meaning makers. When things happen to us we create meaning around the event or experience. Even when we don't know we are doing it, the whole process is happening. And what we make of our lives, what the events and experiences mean to us, largely determines how we see the world and our experience in it.

Christmas means different things to each of us. We can say the trite thing, "Jesus is the reason for the season" but our real meaning goes much deeper than our words. Meaning is what we live, what we experience in our inner selves.

Some people around me are talking about the nostalgia of Christmases past. These memories are full of innocence, richness, usually lots of gifts or great family gatherings with people now gone. Christmas meant feeling secure and included, safe and celebrated. The usual comment is that current Christmases are not as wonderful.

When new experiences come into our life we have to revisit old meanings and see if the new ones fit. Sometimes we adjust what we have thought life means. In this way our meaning framework is always being tested and revised. We can't always choose what happens to us but we can always always choose how we will understand what we experienced.

My Christmas meaning development goes something like this. Childhood had moments that were dear, my grandfather making pancakes on Christmas morning and the year I helped my siblings finish their paper routes in the snow so we could open presents. But Christmas was also a time of high anxiety as money was scarce. I remember my dad waiting til Christmas eve hoping to get a free tree from the lot, and coming home empty handed. I hear my mother's voice in my head from that moment, "Oh NO!" That was an anxious Christmas for me, picking up the stress in my parents. Over years Christmas became a fearful time, a time when I was unsafe and worried about what our family would do.

The first Christmas we were married Steve and I overdid Christmas. Wildly. It was like getting to eat all the cookies you wanted without having a mother to dole them out two by two. Then came years of ministry where I tried to make a 'Dicken's Christmas' out of our home and lives. I worked Christmas: baking, decorating, shopping for sales, wrapping beautiful gifts, inviting guests.

But slowly I came to hate all of it. I hated all the stress and work and worry and the way Christmas unfolded. I would try to make Christmas morning glorious for the kids, and then while they snoozed or played I would clean clean clean, cook and fuss over the table and at 3 pm guests would arrive and I would put on the big dinner... complete with little gifts for everyone - and I was exhausted by the end. One year I loathed the guests (my friends!!) as they came in for dinner. I had spent myself trying to make the world different than I had known, and I was empty. I thought if I made it perfect I'd feel that safe, secure, loved feeling. I did not. The old meaning still stayed. I could not do enough to be safe.

Of course the pendulum swings widely. I went through a time hating the season. I would say to Steve, "If I had a Christmas when it was the 26th and I said, 'OH! Was Christmas yesterday? I didn't notice' - that would be a good year for me."

I have had to revisit my meaning platform for Christmas. What does it mean to me? Deep down. Deep in my soul where truth resides. I've come to realize my disposition to try to create safety for myself because I don't have confidence anyone else can or will make life safe for me. Hm. I know now that no one can create a safe world for me, but I can live well and gladly without magical safety. Christmas means to me that God is involved with my life. It means my world has shifted from being only cold and only alone to be cold and alone (sometimes) and also tender and rich with life. Life that will sometimes be difficult, and life that will end.

I might not put up a tree this year, because the year doesn't seem to be beckoning me to do that. But I have put out a poinsettia, and candles. I am going to seek moments of gentleness and joy. But if the joy comes with the usual headaches I will be okay. Because Christmas means a promise. Christmas means I am part of something big. Big and sparkly. We have no idea how big, or how sparkly.