|Today, December 28, 2021, at my desk|
Today I am fifty-nine years old, and I will love this year.
Despite what I’d heard, and maybe thought to myself when I was younger, the fifties, as a decade have been amazing. Tonight, I told Mario, “I feel the same today as I did when I was thirty-nine.”
“And now, you’re more financially stable,” he said.
I laughed. Mario and I think so differently. In a gazillion years, I would never have thought of financial stability. Never. Finances and I don’t mingle or mix, so I don’t even think about them. And yet, Mario is right. we have finally reached a point in our lives where we can look ahead. Our kids are on their own, with children of their own, and the joy of grandparenting dominates our lives.
On my thirty-ninth birthday, twenty years ago, I had just run my first marathon. I had read (and finished) Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. I was teaching full-time. Vince and Alicia were teenagers, living at home, and David and Joe were in college. I couldn’t see the next ten years ahead of us, and I wouldn’t want to. They would be fraught with disaster, roads so filled with mines, I would never want to cross them. Today, I can say this: I made it through. I’m still alive. My family still talks to me.
Sometimes it’s best if we can’t see the road ahead.
Each birthday, I look up the corresponding Psalm, just to see what God’s word says about the number that corresponds with my birthday year. Today, I read Psalm 59, which begins with these two daunting verses:
1Deliver me from my enemies, O God;
be my fortress against those who are attacking me.
2 Deliver me from evildoers
and save me from those who are after my blood.
I don’t want to think about anyone who doesn’t like me, let alone admit I could have enemies. I love most people, even the ones who don’t care for me. I feel pain deeply, rejoice jubilantly, and I want to talk about friends and promises and a future where I make good choices.
Reality has proven, for me, that the world is filled with people who won’t like me, even some who will hate me. I have a deliverer, and he can deliver me.
This year, despite being fully vaccinated, Mario tested positive for Covid in December. Despite testing negative, and never exhibiting symptoms, I quarantined right along with him. His negative test, on the 20th was what we were waiting for, and served as a green light for us to host.
Mario bought the tree in South Africa, where I was depressed and told him I couldn’t celebrate Christmas because it was so damn hot. I wept every time I saw a green Christmas tree. I couldn’t find a decent tamale in Johannesburg. Who was I kidding? I couldn’t find any tamales. I asked Mario if he missed home as much as I did.
One day, he bought the Christmas tree. It was white and pre-lit with little white lights, like the ones I admired in the States, but could never afford.
“It’s white,” Mario said, dripping with sweat as he wrestled it from its box. “I know you can’t do green because it’s too much like home, but we need a tree to celebrate and I figured we can do white here, and it can be a new tradition.”
I loved that white tree. I loved South Africa. I loved our new home.
I missed real Christmas trees. I missed our home. I missed our family.
I learned that two conflicting emotions could live side by side, without hypocrisy.
In our Sacramento house, the white tree was used because we were quarantined. Mario had forgotten about it being in our backyard garden shed. He looked surprised when I wrestled it from its box and set it up. It was put in the corner, and looked lonely and out-of-place. It’s pre-lit branches had to be stripped because the RSA uses 220 and the USA uses 110. We strung our own lights around the branches, and decorated it with our ornaments, many with the pictures of new grandchildren on them.
The tree reminded me that our life in South Africa came at a cost to us. It reminded me of the longing I had for tamales and molasses cookies. It reminded me of how the whole country of South Africa took one miraculous month off to celebrate the holiday, and genuinely loved their hot, hot Christmases. The white tree reminded me of our years in Johannesburg, where my heart ached to be near family, especially during Christmas. Oh, Lord, it is a miracle that we continued on, and loved it.
Sometimes we need reminders of miracles.
I’m taking a break to write this blog because I am on a major deadline.
I signed a book contract with Prickly Pear Publishing, and I have to turn the book in at the beginning of the year. Getting a book ready for the publisher is like getting a house ready for sale. Getting a daughter ready to be married. Getting a piece of furniture ready to be refinished. No, it’s harder than all those things.
It's literally like getting a book ready for the publisher. That’s what it’s like.
The final two verses of Psalm 59 are encouraging ones, and I’ve quoted them often:
16 But I
will sing of your strength,
in the morning I will sing of your love;
for you are my fortress,
my refuge in times of trouble.
17You are my strength, I sing praise to you;
you, God, are my fortress
my God on whom I can rely.
Without the first two, there cannot be the last two. Like a chef planning the perfect dish, our lives need the balance of salty, sweet, bitter, sour, and umami.
This year, I pray for that balance.