The Bruner family is not exactly a traditional outfit.
When our son-in-law Kevin joined our family almost 6 years ago now, he characterized us as "quirky," a label we accepted with pride.
Our quirkiness definitely extends into the Christmas arena: we don't have a lot of traditions.
This is partly because we used to move all the time. Christmas might be celebrated in Tennessee, the Solomon Islands, or Papua New Guinea, or Dallas. It might be cold and snowy or it might be 95 degrees with 95% humidity.
When your Christmas environment changes, you adjust. You take a picnic to the beach instead of going over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house.
Furthermore, when you're as mobile as we used to be, you don't haul a lot of stuff with you. At least I didn't. The more I moved, the less stuff I wanted to have. End result: not a lot of Christmas decor has come with us through the years.
One notable exception is The Pickle. The Pickle is a little plastic pickle that Andy hides on the tree. Once all the presents are opened, the kids hunt for The Pickle. Whoever finds it gets to open a present that's for the whole family, like a game or a movie. The older our kids have gotten, the more this has developed into a full-contact sport which our daughter generally wins.
I recently suggested that everyone might be getting too old for this, and my notion was firmly rejected. I'm envisioning my kids whacking each other over the head with their canes in the nursing home, still hunting The Pickle. We're just about that quirky.
Another Christmas tradition that's survived many years is reading Barbara Robinson's The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. One of the side benefits of living in places where TV didn't exist is that we read aloud as a family every night for many years. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is the last surviving vestige of the family read-aloud hour. Again, I suggested that we might be too grown up for this now, and again my notion was firmly rejected.
One of the reasons I'm trying to wiggle out of half of our holiday traditions is this: I always, always cry while reading it. And this year, this dumpster-fire year, I can't even THINK about The Best Christmas Pageant Ever without crying.
Monday night, Andy and I went to The Dallas Bach Society's performance of Handel's Messiah. At halftime, I was weeping away and Andy said, "Why does this always get to you so much?"
I mean, Handel's Messiah is the same thing every time. Has been for hundreds of years. Surprise level: zero.
In my own defense, I'd just heard the most beautiful rendition ever of "Come Unto Him." The soprano soloist sounded exactly like angels are supposed to sound.
When Andy asked me that, I just said, "I don't KNOW" and tried not to sob out loud.
But I think it's perhaps the same reason I cry during The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.
It's that line from "O Little Town of Bethlehem," about how the hopes and fears of all the years are met in some mysterious way.
The great, unending sorrow of the world meets Love.
And there's hope that Love does win, that there is rest for our souls.
I feel this not simply on a global level, for the big wide hurting world.
I feel this in my own heart: that there is always sorrow and pain and rejection and loss inside of me that needs to be met with Love.
The truth is, I feel like Imogene Herdman, the eldest girl among "absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world."
Imogene's siblings are completely out of control. Her dad abandoned the family long ago, and her mother works long hours--to stay away from the kids, and who can blame her, the book says. The Herdman kids, who've never been to church in their lives, end up in Sunday School when they hear that free treats will be served, and somehow they all end up in the starring roles of the church nativity play.
From the beginning, Imogene wants to understand the Christmas story, and she ends up understanding it better than anyone else.
When it's all over, Imogene ends up doing what I always do: "She just sat there--awful old Imogene--in her cookedy veil, crying and crying and crying."
When Imogene, who so desperately needs rest for her soul, discovers Love, it breaks her open.
And it breaks me open every time, too.
Because I am Imogene.
I know why she cries.
She's been so alone, and Love has come to be with her.
And so, messy and weepy and imperfect, I embrace being always Imogene, crying and running into things, and ready to clobber anybody who lays a hand on one of my babies.
This year, and every year,
I hope the Light pushes back the darkness in my heart.
I hope the wonder of it makes me weep.
Most of all, I hope Love always breaks me open when it comes.