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Christmas… I guess.

For the first 33 years of my life, Christmas meant a kind of exhaustion that most people cannot fathom. Christmas in The Salvation Army is a beast. I’ve experienced it as a soldier (church member), as an employee, and as a officer (minister), and while it’ll surely tick some people off by me saying so, nothing comes close to the kind of busy/exhaustion/pressure that corps officers (local ministers) experience. It turns Christmas into a kind of ultramarathon that can eat you alive. Even when you love Christmas, even though you think you know what you’re signing up for prior to your first Christmas, it is something to survive.

This is the first year that I have experienced Christmas outside of The Salvation Army, and it has been weird, to put it mildly. This perspective is so different, this schedule so befuddling, this setting so different that despite the decorations and music, it doesn’t feel like Christmas. Not one little bit.

I’ve gotten to do things that I hadn’t been able to do for years: go Christmas shopping at reasonable hours, bake Christmas cookies with my family, wrapped all my presents in carefully coordinated papers, watch White Christmas, go downtown Chicago (my¬†favorite thing to do all year long), guzzle too many red-cupped doses of Starbucks, and yet, it doesn’t feel like Christmas. I haven’t stood at a kettle, driven bellringers around town, taken a Christmas assistance application, done a TV or radio interview, shoveled a parking lot, gotten cussed out because of the contents of a food assistance box, scrambled to find presents for kids, visited a nursing home, decorated a church building, planned and executed any kind of Christmas program, or any of the other millions of things I spent my life doing. It has been hard watching my tribe continue to live through the monstrous exhaustion, sleep deprivation, soul-crushing emails from headquarters, borderline malnutrition, and emotional swings. I want to rescue them.

It hasn’t helped that my circumstances aren’t exactly what I would like them to be. I’m still looking for work, and I am so not used to living with people anymore, even my parents, and this year, it seems harder to miss my friends who are far away, probably because I’m not so busy that I’m distracted. I’ve gone and gotten myself a boyfriend, CJ, which has been exciting and fun and insane and anxiety-inducing all at the same time (more on that in a different post). It has been freakishly warm with virtually no snow all season, and not even my favorite Christmas albums are helping.

So here it is, Christmas Eve, yet in some ways, it might as well be the middle of February. It just doesn’t really feel all that special.

Hopefully that will change in the next few hours, when my brother and sister-in-law get into town and I go to Christmas Eve service at church. Even while writing this, things have started to look up: an unexpected Starbucks gift from my bff Brandon, listening ears and encouragement from my other bff Melissa, unexpected messages from people in my tribe who have paused to say “Merry Christmas” and wish me well, a text from CJ that made my heart a little happier, and my anxiety is dropping.

Maybe tomorrow, I’ll have some kind of grand holiday offering for you, but today, it lies here: It’s Christmas Eve and I’m a bit of a mess, but I can celebrate the love and kindness of my friends, who see the mess that I am and love me in spite of it.

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Patchwork

Today, I woke at an ungodly hour, loaded a few bags in the car, and headed off to a small town in Michigan to spend the holiday with family I’d never met and to whom I’m not related.

I don’t know how long ago I “met” my friend Ange in a Facebook group. It feels like I’ve always known her. Smart, funny, humble, and more than anything, loving, Ange has become like another sister. It’s no surprise that she invited me to come spend Thanksgiving with her and her family, but it’s quite a privilege.

I was really excited last night when I heard some other friends from our group would be here, too. Kelsie, Phil, Cassie, and Angela were here for Ange’s annual pre-holiday party, too, and though almost all of our communication has been through Facebook, it felt like seeing family.

One of the best parts of being an adult is the ability to pick my own family, to an extent. Somewhere along the way, my path crosses with someone else’s we unconsciously decide to “keep” one another, stitching ourselves together kind of like patchwork. Not the precisely tailored pieces that are so carefully planned out, but irregular bits of material that somehow fit together in ways that are sometimes unexpected.

Coming to Michigan has been good for my soul. It’s a real-time reminder of the support and love I have. It’s a welcome distraction from my daily thoughts about what is going to happen next. It’s fun to watch her 14 month old try to sneak another cookie from the table and it was exciting when the otherwise shy three-year-old decided I was OK to talk to. To get hugs and smiles and feel a little more alive again is well worth the drive.

For as long as I can remember, vacations have usually involved crashing on a couch or spare bed while I visit my patchwork family. Perhaps a huge bed with a zillion pillows would be more comfortable, but how lucky am I that I have people who welcome me into their homes like this? Not everyone gets to bunk with Feenie and fall asleep listening to Crosby giggles from downstairs.