December is often the time of too many events, too many parties, too many obligations, too many gifts and too much family. There are quite a few Decembers in my recent memory where I did too much, slept too little and was worn out or sick by Christmas. This year, prompted by an e-mail message from the principal at my child's middle school, reminding parents that doing less might end up helping more, I'm once again reviewing my calendar. So far, I've cancelled two events, and I'm only through this week.
Last Sunday marked the beginning of Advent. It is the season that marks the expectation, the waiting and the preparation for Christmas, the celebration of Christ's birth. It also marks the beginning of the church year, when the readings and the rituals observed throughout the year start anew. However, what I like most about this season is the repetition of things past.
It's the repetition of family traditions, small and large, that provides the comfort, reminder and framework to enjoy the season. We spend time with those we love and celebrate the birth of Christ, who provided hope and life to a dark-filled world.
Today we, too, have many reasons to feel dark, to feel overwhelmed, to worry about tomorrow: high unemployment, a static economy and rapidly changing international relations. We do not live in a stable world.
It is in these fluid times that following traditions, routines and rituals can provide the most comfort. They allow us to remain centered and focused while the outside world is churning.
This past year has been one of fluidity, and events both joyful and sorrowful for our family. My father announced his run for the presidency, my mother and father-in-law have been in and out of hospitals, my sister-in-law and her husband had their first child, my husband's grandmother died this summer. These events have led to changes, but our family has gained strength.
I worry less (well, I attempt to worry less) about the future, knowing that it is out of my control, and I try to slow down and appreciate the moments that I have. While it's made me more aware of how little power I have, it has also made me more aware of the power and grace of God.
God's grace appears not so much in large events, but more in the small, powerful moments of my day.
Last weekend, we pulled the Christmas mugs, Christmas books and large red bows out of the attic. As we unwrapped the mugs and washed them, we listened to Christmas music. When I was done, I walked into the den and saw our youngest child reading a Christmas book — about dogs.
Our oldest walked over, sat down next to her brother on the couch, picked up the book, turned it over in her hand, looked up at me, smiled and said, "This is the book that Granny gave us."
"Yes, it is," I replied.
This small moment in a busy day was a picture of God's grace. Her smile and happy memory of Granny, I think, would have made her great grandmother happy.
While it's always tempting to do more, to be involved more, especially this time of year, this is exactly the time we need to slow down, to do less, to be present more with those whom we love.
This Advent, remember that the season is not just about the event, but about the expectation, the waiting, the preparation, the everyday events where you can see God's grace shine. Slow down, and let your presence be your present this season.
To find out more about Jackie Gingrich Cushman, see www.creators.com.