Sunday, January 3, 2010

Differentiating

Our Christmas tree was a little Charlie-Brownish this year. And if I'm honest, it was last year, too. Decorated almost entirely by the younger members of our family, the ornaments clung in tight little groupings on low-hanging branches, ribbons swirled through limbs in awkward, uneven loops, and gaping holes revealed the window beyond as Corbin and I didn't take the time to fluff and arrange the fake boughs.
Oh well.
It was a happy tree, with ornaments showcasing memories from thirteen years of marriage and a decade of parenting.
So as I type, the Christmas decorations are down and (mostly!) put away. Suitcases and bags from holiday travel are unpacked, and mountains of laundry have been washed and put away - a smallish heap of clean colors mounded on the top of our washer.
Like most everyone, we're recovering from the holidays and getting settled in to the new year. A friend and I have encouraged each other this week to breathe deep, take one moment at a time, and try to relax in the midst of holiday clean-up. The "getting back to normal" can be overwhelming with mile-long to-do lists. And the new year brings such a strong desire to get our hearts and homes back in order.
Meanwhile, we are surrounded by families and friends who face significant tragedy and difficulty. Overstuffed toy boxes and too-full closets don't even make the list. It's a wake up call to what's really important, to the kinds of things that really make us stop (or kneel) to take a deep breath:
- My college roommate moving her family across the country to care for her terminally-ill mother. She and her husband are immersed in caring for the physical and emotional needs of her mother, settling into a completely new culture and town and school, working from a new location, all the while operating a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering impoverished women around the world.
- A bright, beautiful friend fighting hard to curtail an impending divorce while keeping her kids' heads above water.
- The families at Fort Worth's Ronald McDonald house spending their holidays at the hospital with premature babies and bone marrow transplants and kidney dialysis. We spend an evening at the RMD house every few months, eating meals with shell-shocked families whose 2 lb, two-day old baby fights for her life in the NICU. Or whose fourth-grade daughter was just diagnosed with leukemia. Or the families we see again and again who spend month upon month living next door to a children's hospital and deal with crushing illnesses.

These situations lessen my concerns of coordinating Christmas gift wrap, a cluttered garage, and closets that need a catharsis.
We tend to detach from sights and situations that make us feel badly about ourselves - especially when we feel powerless. If we think we can't do anything about a bad situation, we'd just as soon not have to see it. Here's the trap, however: If we distance ourselves long enough from real needs, we replace them with those that aren't. Pretense becomes the new real and suddenly a delay of our new couch becomes a terrible upset. We are wise to force ourselves to keep differentiating between simple inconveniences and authentic tribulations. The more detached and self-absorbed we become, the more we mistake annoyances for agonies. - Beth Moore (Esther study)

I don't want to lose perspective. At some point I'm going to be the one needing meals, babysitters, prayers, and a listening ear. I'll need someone to come and and walk a difficult road with me. And I want my family and friends to view me through eternal, grace-filled eyes, to differentiate between inconveniences and tribulations, and to choose me over closets.

Lord, open my eyes to the real needs around me, to where my time and energies might go today. My natural bent is to get side-railed by interruptions and minor disappointments. Help me to see through grateful eyes. I trust you with these families and my own.