A fantasy for all the days until Christmas

elijahThe LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; 12and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14He answered, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”

1 Kings 19

Exhausted, Holly fell into bed and pulled the covers over her head.   The long Thanksgiving weekend began a week before Thanksgiving as Holly baked, shopped, planned, and organized for the perfect feast for all her family and a few last-minute friends.  The magazine headline had promised that Thanksgiving day would be a cinch if Holly followed it’s bake-ahead-plan-ahead checklists.  Secretly, Holly wondered if the only thing accomplished was an extension of stress and and mayhem over more days.   She smiled sweetly as she served the meal she had imagined would be so perfect and beautiful, even as she carefully arranged decorative grapes over the turkey’s leg that had fallen prey to the counter-hunting family dog.  It was somewhat burned anyway, owing to the hot spot in her aging oven.  She continued to smile sweetly as her relatives began their organ recitals as they passed one dish after another with the refrain, “Oh, I can’t eat this because…..”   She even smiled sweetly as her children and their cousins pointed out the foods they would not eat as they loaded their plates with nothing but mashed potatoes and olives.  Cheerfully she brought out the board games and suggested friendly  play, while one group left the table to watch The Game and another left to immerse themselves in the Black Friday ads and orchestrate their shopping game plans.   She was left to play Chutes and Ladders with the youngest children who could neither read the Black Friday ads or understand football.   These too eventually abandoned her to grab the ads and circle toys to add to their wish lists.   Holly poured herself a glass of the last of the wine, and started loading the dishwasher.

Holly imagined how much fun it would be to go out into the country and cut their own christmas tree farmChristmas tree this year at that tree farm in the commercial.  Her son had an early morning soccer game, and then there was a Christmas concert rehearsal at church in the afternoon,  so Holly strategized around the game and rehearsal and found just enough time inbetween to get out to the farm, cut the tree, have donuts and a cup of hot cider and come back.   She told her family how much fun this was going to be.  When they arrived at the farm, her son informed his parents that he was too tired after the soccer game to walk out into the field to cut the tree so he was going to stay in the car.  They found a tree, not quite as perfect as Holly had hoped, but within their budget.  It looked quite small.  She and her husband bickered as he sawed at the trunk until tempers flared.  He suddenly stood up and handed her the saw and stalked back to the car.   She finished sawing through the trunk with all her might while her daughter sat cross legged on the ground playing Cut the Rope Christmas edition.   Once the tree was down, her husband returned in the company of their son.  Together they dragged the tree to the van and wrangled it inside between the seats.  Holly beckoned the family to come into the warm barn, complete with petting zoo, and to enjoy the advertised home made donuts and hot cider.  “This cider tastes funny.” her daughter immediately pronounced.  Holly looked at the empty platters that had been filled with fresh home made donuts, but now displayed only crumbs.  A young man in Carharts rushed up to the table with two grocery bags,  and opened two boxes of powdered donuts from the bakery thrift store.  They ate their donuts because they had been promised, and hurried back to the car before finishing the funny tasting cider.

They knew that scheduling the rehearsal for Thanksgiving weekend would be risky for attendance, but since more than half the participants indicated no plans for travel and a willingness  to come, the rehearsal was scheduled.  Holly dutifully scheduled the family weekend so that she and her daughter could both attend.  When they arrived, there was only one other car in the church parking lot.  Twenty minutes later, another car pulled into the space between them.  Everyone rolled down their windows to talk between the cars.

“Where is everyone?”

“I don’t know.  I thought most of the choir said they could be here.”

“What do you want to do?  We have four people here, we could at least go over the music.”

“I don’t know about you, but I could be doing a million other things, so if it’s all the same to you I say we can it and hope next week is better.”

Holly couldn’t disagree, admitting to herself that she was frankly relieved to have the afternoon free of commitments.   Before they left the parking lot, her daughter and the girl in the next car plotted an afternoon at the movies.  Holly agreed to chaperone and soon two girls were giggling in the back seat with  Cut the Rope Christmas edition game on a screen between them, leaving Holly alone in her thoughts as she drove to the theater.  A few hours in a dark theater off her feet was a welcome thought, no matter what movie the girls would finally choose.      

advent_wreathBy Sunday afternoon, the Advent Calendar was hung, filled with new treats for each day until Christmas.  The Advent wreath had three purple and one pink candle.  It was a compromise after Holly spent over an hour looking for the right kind of blue candles at the gift shop, the department store, and the mega-grocery store.  The wreath  was one her son made several years ago at church, and required repairs every season. The wreath was dear to Holly,  holding treasured memories of her son’s youngest years.  She was surprised last year when he said he did not remember making it.

By Sunday evening, the Christmas tree remained on the back porch in a bucket of water, it’s branches still in a tourniquet of plastic mesh.  Everyone retreated to their personal spaces in soporific stupor after eating the last of the turkey and pumpkin pie that could be endured.  Holly’s suggestion that they  could all decorate the tree together was met with groans and vacant stares.  Tomorrow they would all go back to work and to school.  “Who knows when we will all be free at the same time again?” she pleaded to deaf ears.  She knew.  She knew if they did not do it tonight, she would be left to do it by herself, save for a little help getting the tree into the stand and straightened.  As she looked through the patio door to see the tree in its temporary perch, she realized it was a lot bigger in relation to the doors and the ceiling than it seemed to be out in the field.  Definitely will need help with this, she noted to herself while wondering when and where that help would show up.

This is how she came to here, in bed alone with the covers over her head a full hour before her usual bedtime.  She tried to choke back her tears of frustration and disappointment while telling herself she was simply  too tired and needed to go to sleep.  She thought loudly to no one in the room, not wanting to call it a prayer exactly.

 Holly, what are you doing here?

If I don’t do it, it wouldn’t get done.  Someday my kids will remember this and want to do the same for their own kids.  Someone has to pull the family together, and that’s my job.  I’m so damned tired.

Holly, what are you doing here?

God if I know  God if you know, would you please give me an inkling?

Long silence, while the noise of the television movie drifted up the stairs.

Holly, what are you doing here?

I’ve done it all as best as one person can.  But I’m just one person.  I’m afraid sometimes when I think how much everyone depends on me to know everything, to be everywhere, to fix it all, and I’m tired of doing it cheerfully!  Don’t they see it?  Don’t they see if I died tomorrow no one would know what to do or where to find anything?

Another long silence, punctuated by her daughter’s unintelligibly coded conversation on her phone.

Holly, what are you doing here?

God, I’m lying here imagining my world without me in it.  It looks pretty good because at least then they would appreciate everything I’ve done.

Holly fell into a restless sleep, overtired achiness in every limb.  She awoke when her husband came to bed, and then again when the dog whined to go out.  She talked to the dog on her way down the stairs.

“No one let you out and everyone went to bed, did we?  But you know who will get up in the middle of the night for you, don’t you? “

The dog waited at the bottom of the stairs, wagging his tail with expectation.

As she waited for the dog, she picked up the sparse news part of the paper, now gutted of the thick pile of advertisements.  Wondering why she even still subscribed to the paper, she scanned the headlines.  Nothing was really different than any other day.  Political parties taking aim at each other.  Another war.  Another bomb.  Another senseless death to gun violence.  Another house fire.   Another weather event.  More denial of climate change, culpability, responsibility.   So much hatred.  So much blame.  So much fear.

The voice broke the silence again.  That voice she thought was only her own, thinking loudly.

Holly, what are you doing here?

Lord, I’m just one person.  One person awake in the middle of the night waiting in the cold for the dog to pee.   That’s all I’m doing here.

The silence grew more deeply around her.

Holly, what are you doing here?

I told you!  I don’t know what I’m doing here!  What more can I do?  I’m talking to the walls around here.  Hell, I’m talking to the voice in my head!

The silence was broken again, and the voice came to her again.  It’s tone was soft, as one speaks patiently and insistently to a small child.

Holly, what are you doing here?

I don’t want my children to inherit this world, God.  I don’t even want to be in the world they are growing into.  No one is listening, although everyone is screaming and yelling.  God, I can’t even get the Christmas tree decorated.  What can one person do?

The house was now unbearably, overwhelmingly quiet.  Not even the dog’s tags jingled since the dog was  outside and quiet.   The darkness wrapped around Holly, who pulled it tightly against herself, tightly against the world.  She silenced her breath, her body, even her thoughts.  The blower on the furnace turned off, and the quiet filled in the spaces in her darkness wrapped cocoon.

In the middle of the night.

In the fullness of time.

Holly thought she heard the mewling of a cat and waited for the dog to bark.

The soft cry of a newborn baby split the night.



About Pastor Betsy Williams

I am a mom. And a wife. And a Friend. And a homeowner. And a dog ...uh....owner? Actually make that two dogs. Two kids. One husband. I'm an ELCA Lutheran pastor of a beautiful downtown church. I am the third senior pastor in a century, so my 10-12 years here may feel like an interim to some of the folks here. Recently I have had no spare time. In my spare time in the future, my imagination inhabits a novel I am writing, The Funeral Preacher. My primary blog is a personal reflection on the Revised Common Lectionary...mostly: "Not All Who Wander are Lost." A few years ago I was on a team of writers who produced a little book for Augsburg Fortress in the Washed and Welcome series called "Living the Promises." It's 101 ideas for helping parents and godparents nurture their children in the faith of their baptism. I am developing another blog, more about worship at St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Newark, Ohio and including a summary of the past week's preaching. Otherwise, I imagine myself to be a musician, liturgical artist, cook in a five star restaurant where the patrons keep ordering chicken nuggets, but never a bottle washer. I know how to delegate and share.
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