Welcome, everyone who has made Ana’s Advent Calendar your home for this month.First order of business: Nina, as the first commenter on the first day, you win a limited edition Advent Calendar card. Congratulations!Second, don’t forget to keep track of your participation points. Links to handy-dandy attendance sheets are at the bottom of this post.Finally, thank you for making time for the Advent Calendar! It’s a hectic time of year, so spending this month together becomes even more precious. We have a terrific line-up of posts that I hope you will enjoy and take to heart.
It’s almost 3 AM on Giving Tuesday, and it’s the first time I’ve had this week to sit down and work on my post. I’ve written and re-written this post in my head and on my computer screen, trying for various tones of humor, nostalgia, pragmatism, and optimism. Instead, I’ll tell you the truth.
I’m tired. Over-committed. Under-slept. Stressed. Worried about everything from careers to finances to family and friends. I go to bed tired, and it seems I wake up even more tired.
Right now, I have nothing to give.
That’s not what we’re supposed to say during this holiday season, and it’s not the message I planned for today. Last year, Giving Tuesday was a grand celebration of raising thousands of dollars’ worth of Kindles and LGBT books for homeless young adults. Two years ago, I told the story of “Annie” to prompt a soul-searching discussion on ways we could make a difference in people’s lives. I wanted an uplifting post this year, something wise and thoughtful and inspiring.
Instead, I find myself searching desperately for words to voice a nameless exhaustion. Part of it is physical. I’ve worked or attended a (grueling but rewarding) conference for all but three days of November. Three days, period, including weekends and holidays. I’ve gotten caught up in the drama of a woman dying of ALS, and today she lashed out at me with the venom of someone unaware of how her words hurt others. I ache for estranged family members who may, for my own safety and sanity, need to remain estranged until the end of time. I yearn for loved ones who have passed on, and I mentally light a candle for those I love but who live too far away for regular contact.
I’ve dipped my pen into my writer’s inkwell the past month, only for it to return dry. Writing takes a well-nourished soul (albeit, in my case, a sleep-deprived one), and too often I’ve come to the table running on empty. I did turn out a sweet (i.e. non-kinky, non-spanky, and absolutely G rated) Christmas story about a little girl who grows up to love the boy next door. (Yes, I said boy. Shocked me more than any of you, but the payoff was writing the glorious moments when a little girl transforms into a teenager, young adult, and finally a woman.)
I’ve allowed pettiness and meanness to hurt more more than it should, and random strangers’ baffling poisonous words have stayed in my heart longer than they should have.
My body throbs with the unfairness of so much going on in the world right now. Sarah Bessey said it best a year ago:
I’ll be honest, I’m not feeling the joy much these days. I’m learning to be okay with that. I’m learning to be okay with the sadness that rises, with the frustration of a broken world, with longings still unfulfilled, with the profound ache in my human heart for all things to be restored, to be redeemed, to be whole. I’m learning to turn towards a third way: the one that holds both the joy and the sorrow, the one that picks up a small stone to move the mountain in small acts of faithfulness. Advent is one small stone.
People I love are struggling financially or emotionally or spiritually: real honest pain. I’m frustrated with divisions in the Church, with conversations that miss the point. I often feel distracted and fragmented, caught in the thicket of other people’s priorities and pet-issues and dysfunctions. Ferguson. Aboriginal women in Canada who are targeted for abuse and attacks in such devastating numbers. Syria. Ebola in west Africa. Shooting in our capital city of Ottawa, right in the heart of our government. One of our oldest and best friends lost his beautiful wife to cancer this year, it’s his first Christmas alone with their two little girls.
I need my Saviour* who suffers with us, my God who weeps, who longs to gather us to himself as a mother hen gathers her chicks.
When I read these words this morning, my heart sighed in recognition. Sarah tells us that Advent, for her, is sitting with the uncomfortable tension of wanting something without receiving it. We are waiting, waiting, waiting for a promised moment that seems as if it will never come.
We do our good deeds. We wash the blasted dishes and laundry only for the dirty ones to re-spawn the second we turn our backs. We tend the garden of relationships with our loved ones, only to be blindsided by miscommunication and misunderstanding. We grow apart. We lose faith, even as we donate to our charities of choice and work for a better tomorrow.
That’s what Giving Tuesday is really about, isn’t it? We tell ourselves we want to make a difference in someone else’s life, but really we mean our own. When life seems filled with ugliness, we need affirmation of its beauty in order to keep on.
Giving Tuesday began as a pushback against the crass commercialism of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It was about saying no to MeMeMe Entitlement and yes to making lives better.
Sometimes, though, the giving needs to start with a quiet moment with ourselves.
When we face the demons inside of us, we emerge stronger, more honest, and more able to face the challenges ahead.
Even more importantly, we sort out our issues so we don’t unintentionally inflict them on the people around us.
How many of us have a parent (since this has so far been a female group, likely our mothers) who had unresolved issues we got to experience secondhand? How many of us have been appalled at how our own issues hurt those closest to us?
I’ll give you an example. In my childhood, I was targeted by a few boys in my class. I’ve told the story before, but the short version is that I learned none of my “friends” would stand up for me against bullies. I learned that, instead, they would laugh and join in, thinking it was a joke.
For the rest of my life, I have been determined never to become that kind of “friend.” Or human being, really. But in the effort to always stand up for the underdog, often I’ve gotten too involved in situations when I should have walked away. I took a woman and toddler into my home because she told me she feared for her life, and in the process I may have unintentionally helped her launch false accusations against her husband. (I still don’t know the whole story, and I never will.) I’ve spoken up when the wiser course would have been to keep my counsel, and I’ve learned–at bitter cost–that trying to fight other people’s battles will only result in drama visiting my own home. Also, trying to fight other people’s battles leaves me drained and unable to focus on my own life. It’s a hard lesson, one that needs an unfortunate repetition every so often.
It’s important to give to others, and it’s important to think of others. But today, perhaps Giving Tuesday starts with us.
This scene from Inside Out may or may not make sense out of context, but the story is about finding strength in sadness and negative emotions. It’s a powerful message (go watch the film!) and one that fits well into the Advent Calendar theme this year.
Where are you at today? How are you holding up?
What about you, in a broader sense? How will you observe Giving Tuesday?
(As is traditional for Giving Tuesday, please do feel free to talk about your favorite charities and causes as well. If you do, post a link to information in case others want to find out more.)
Download this participation sheet to keep track of your daily visits. Or, if you don’t have MS Word, access the Google sheet here (choose “yes” to make a copy).